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Mindful : April 2015
food future. The America n expectation of dinner—a hunk of meat, some veg, and maybe a grain—is what he calls “the first plate,” the traditional western diet. The plate will be improved if the meat is free range a nd the veg organic—the “second plate,” representing the current state of farm-to-table eating. But, the improve- ment does not go far enough, Barber says. “The architecture of the plate is the same. We need to flip it on its head.” The “third plate” reverses the propor- tions of the dinner, as Barber writes, “In place of a hulking piece of protein I imag- ined a carrot steak dominating the plate, with a sauce of braised second cuts of beef.” This is his paradigm shift, a “new way of thinking and eating that defies Americans’ ing rained expectations.” We’ve met in mid-afternoon at Blue Hill at Stone Ba rns, his restaura nt on the grounds of the ag ricultura l training cen- ter Stone Ba rns at Poca ntico Hills outside New York City. The orga nic vegetables and herbs and free-range animals from these fa rm fields—which for its size gives an enormous, diversified yield—form most of the menu here, Barber’s second Blue Hill restaura nt. The first one, in Greenwich Village, opened in 2000. (The restaurants take their name from a 138-acre fa rm in Great Barrington, Mas- sachusetts, owned by his gra ndmother that he and his brother David worked on in the summer growing up. It’s still a working farm owned by the family and supplies food for their restaura nts.) Blue Hill at Stone Barns—sited beauti- fully in an old dairy building with views of fields from every window—offers a menu dependent on the crops har vested every day. We wait at the bar, eavesdrop- ping on a group of young people taking a tour of the restaurant. When the chef arrives, he’s friendly, intense, and in a hurry. Ba rber is in demand, his public appearances increasing with last year’s publication of The Third Plate. When I meet him a second time, he’s off to Washington to give the keynote address at the Grain Gathering in Mount Vernon, a series of workshops a nd discussions on the uses of grain. He’s on the run, but he’s always ready to ma ke time to explain the importa nce of reconsidering how and what we grow and eat. “Look, agriculture is not natural, ” he says. “It’s about disturbing the natural world; you’re forcing plants to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Question is, are we going to engage in ag riculture the way we do now, controlling nature in ways that are demonstrably foreign, or are we going to show respect and aware- ness of natural rhythms by producing what nature is allowing us to produce?” While researching the book, Barber intuitively felt the need to prove that how we treat the natural world is inextricably tied to the way we eat. When we work in concert with nature, knowing the ecology of each region, we can disturb nature in a more elegant fashion, and the payoffs are so much greater. “The best-tasting food, the food we’re drawn to, comes from a system of ag riculture that respects the natural,” he says. “It’s about realizing that in all parts of the world the best-tasting ing redients come from systems orches- trated by the farmer and the community he or she is respecting.” Today, he says, “there’s massive grow- ing interest in how food is produced.” He’s impressed by how engaged the pub- lic is with local, orga nic, fa rm-to-table food. “ But these a re just labels. They’re not an organizing principle,” Ba rber says. “If we want to translate the interest and enthusiasm into real cha nge, we need to figure out how to put the pieces together with a new pattern of eating.” Barber is an unusual combination—a n accomplished chef with a schola rly bent. A graduate of Tufts University with a degree in English, he has written on food and food policy for some of this coun- try’s most prestigious food magazines, including Gourmet, Saveur, and Food and Wine. He studied at the French Culinar y Institute, and two years after opening his New York City restaurant was named one of the Best New Chefs by Food and Wine. He has received several top chef acco- lades from the James Beard Foundation, which in 2009 gave him the Outstanding Chef Award. In that year, he was named one of the world’s “most influential peo- ple” in Time ’s annual list. But resting on laurels isn’t for Barber. He’s taking his critique of the industrial ag riculture movement on the road. That model, he believes, has not only destroyed the quality of food, it’s uneconomical. At a conference sponsored by The Economist, he described the work of hunter-gather- ers 25,000 years ago who reaped 20 kilo- calories for every kilocalorie expended: “That was the most efficient food system. In the 20th century with the discovery of fossil fuel, we have the least efficient → Among Barber’s suggestions for a sustainable diet of the future is to eat more wild plants, like cattails: you scrape and sauté their mossy skins in butter and lemon juice. They’re “like scrambled eggs—runny, rich, uncomplicated, per fect,” and the plant itself ser ves a noble purpose as a filter near precious water resources. He also advocates eating “rotational” crops. A farmer he knows grows cowpeas prior to growing wheat to fix nitrogen in the soil. By creating a market for crops like cowpeas, he says, we “provide more value for the farmer and for our own diets, while suppor ting the long-term health of the land.” April 2015 mindful 37