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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Future of Food?

Star Chef Dan Barber’s ‘Third Plate’

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Many people who trouble themselves over picking the freshest produce at the farmers market will stop at a grocery on their way home for a package of processed bread. It’s the sort of half-measure that frustrates Dan Barber, the James Beard Award-winning Manhattan chef who pioneered farm-to-table dining. His provocative new book, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, reflects on positive steps that have occurred in America’s awareness of food—including the growth of organic and free-range farming—but finds it insufficient and still yoked to the old “protein-centric” models. Barber hopes to use the bully pulpit occupied by star chefs to move the discussion into new ideas on growing and consuming food.

Barber’s thoughts have a beautiful poetry to them. “What we eat is part of the integrated whole, a web of relationships,” he writes, adding that the parts interact in ways science cannot weigh or measure. One of his models for agriculture comes from the Native American tradition of growing three vegetables and grains together “to carefully bundle crops into relationships that benefit each other, the soil and the farmer.” Can the yields from such farming sustain the unprecedented growth in human population? With the leaching of the soil by chemical fertilizers and monoculture, there may be no choice in the future but to try.