Page 22 - The Valley Table - November/December 2020
P. 22

                                RUTH REICHL
“Food Writer and Author | Columbia County
I’ve spent the last six months working on a documentary. I spend all day, every day talking to farmers, fishermen, chefs, people in charity space, you name it, anybody who has an impact on the food landscape. I’ve been checking in with people on a regular basis since early March. The reason I’m doing this is because it really hit me that this was, to use the word everybody’s using, a pivotal point in American food. None of us knew where it was going to end up, but nothing was going to be the same at the end of this.
It seemed to me that there were two distinct possibilities. One is that restaurants would go out of business, farmers would fail, fishermen would dock their boats, and 40 years of work on sustainability would go out the window. We would end up with an even more industrialized
food landscape than we have now. Or, Americans will
start cooking again, will connect to their food, will start shopping with farmers, will understand how important food is, and that the food system is terribly broken. Maybe this would be a moment when we fix it. To be honest, I don’t know yet where we’re going to end up.
It’s very clear that we’re going to have a lot less independent restaurants when this is over. I don’t think we’ll really know where farmers are until mid-November when farm loans come due. But, just about everybody is expecting an awful lot of farm failure at that point.
If it doesn’t work out, it’s pretty scary. We have the cheapest food in the world in this country. It’s government policy to do that; it has been since World War II. It was
a way of fighting the Cold War. What it has given us is
Every chef in
America is thinking: How do we fix this model? How do we make it better?
incredible efficiency at the expense of the land, our health, etc. Six out of 10 Americans suffer from chronic diseases, which are mostly food-related. In the worst case scenario, that just gets worse.
In the better case scenario, where people understand that their health is very dependent on what they eat, people will start to eat good, nutritious food; will start going to farmers who raise more nutritious food; will start cooking and having family dinners.
The restaurant industry is going to be really interesting. We are going to have enormous failure across the country. We know that. What that will mean is an opportunity, a year, two years down the road, for people to get into the business who couldn’t have before. Rents will be lowered; we will not be so saturated. I think, in a couple of years, you’re probably going to see a burst of creativity in the restaurant landscape, but first we’re going to go through some really wrenching closures and changes.
The restaurant business model is a terrible model in every way, from abuse of staff to the fact that tipped employees are paid less and that the people in the back of the house are vulnerable. Every chef in America is thinking: How do we fix this model? How do we make it better?
What is it about farming that doesn’t work? Why does every farmer have to go and beg for loans at the beginning of every season? Is there a better way for us to do that? There’s no question that, horrible as this pandemic has

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