To say the most recent election season was an exciting, off-putting, disconcerting, anxiety-provoking, colorful, embarrassing, distracting, petty, bombastic, sensational, vulgar, phenomenal, loud, unprecedented, provocative and singular affair would not only be a gross understatement but also a mischaracterization, as one is still leaving out any number of linguistic or adjective phrases that could be thrown on the pyre of our collective conflagration over the last year or more to accurately describe the most bizarre … oh, you get it.
The disruption that the aforementioned spectacle, which thankfully is now in the rearview, bestowed upon us, at least temporarily, ruined a lot of things, including: civil discourse, cable news, family gatherings and appetites. If nothing else, all of this has brought back our unmitigated and insatiable desire for comfort food. Not since post-9/11 have we seen the intense draw to all things warm, gooey, cheesy, chocolaty, earthy and relating to the consumption of comfort, in an altogether literal way. But before the bread bowls are hollowed out and cupcakes have yet another resurgence, let’s take a moment to visit one of the few topics overlooked during our appendix burst of an election.
During this election cycle, there was barely a word mentioned about food and/or agriculture. While this is decidedly bad for everyone, it is especially bad for rural America (46 million Americans live in rural communities)—an ever-shrinking locale where the vast majority of our food is grown and harvested, and, not coincidentally, a place where economic dissolution and resentment runs rampant. Because of the bluster and attention paid to a myriad of subjects (including beauty pageants, e-mail servers, Tic-Tacs and the like), we never quite got to the meat and veg of the matter to deal with the healthcare of our food system. Unfortunately, caring about food, and the systems that support our ability to sustainably feed ourselves, has become unfairly perceived as an elitist endeavor, engaged primarily by urbanites who eschew grain-fed beef and insist on “craft” being a part of everything they consume. Thus, the food movement has done a great deal to secure the growth of artisan chocolate and heirloom grains but has yet to effectively address and promote issues around farm policy, land management and a truly sustainable system. This, sadly, creates and reinforces a sense that there is a schism between consumer and producer, urban and rural, blue collar and everyone else. It should go without saying: We need to get a little bit louder on these issues.
But onto the issue at hand: Winter in the Hudson Valley is upon us, and we look for the life underneath the yearly winding down and relative hush of the season. We visit an unlikely enterprise in Newburgh—a sustainable shrimp farm growing exemplary seafood in a way to inspire anyone who has groused about the dearth of quality shellfish in the area (page 32). We head over to Sullivan County with chef Cesare Casella and witness the beginnings of an ambitious plan to bring Italian salumi-making to the Catskills (page 36). And we check in at Bartlett House, a lovingly restored eatery in Ghent that aims to please with all manner of baked goods and warm drinks (page 26).
Stay warm this winter (as if I need to really tell you), lick those psychic wounds inflicted from a somewhat brutal year that has all but passed, and fill your stomach and rinse your gullet with the valley’s finest, while scheming on how you could make 2017 a vast improvement on the year that preceded it.
Eric Steinman, Editor