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Mindful : April 2015
When this slight, bookish New Yorker from the Upper East Side launches into his “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” story, people wonder who is this guy? Is he a chef, an environmentalist, or just plain eccentric? When he talks about chasing geese around an oak forest in Spain, he sounds like a Don Quixote of the table. But he’s also rigorously analyt- ical a nd a noted polemicist on the op-ed page of The New York Times. In his new book—The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food—the pointed storytelling continues. He stalks wheat scientists in the west, rice farmers in the south, corn specialists in New England, all the while The chef loves to tell stories. Already a highly respected and award-winning restaurateur, Dan Barber is fast becoming known as someone who spins compelling yarns about food—including in several heralded TED Talks, where he waxes eloquently about Spanish geese and falling in love with a fish. the way we eat and the way we grow our food can work in tandem.” We need an ag riculture system that truly preserves the land, Barber says, and a pattern of eating that is in harmony with what our landscape is suited to pro- vide in an ongoing sustainable way. What we demand to put on our plates dictates what farmers produce. If there’s a quinoa and kale fad, farmers will produce more quinoa a nd kale, even if it would make more sense to supply us with a mix of grain and vegetables best suited to the land they’re working. Regional differ- ences must not be ignored. A cuisine that supports the ecology of southern California would be entirely different from one in Texas. Barber doesn’t rule out national and international markets for food, but he does decry monocultures and our focus on getting protein from so few sources, mainly prime cuts of meat. Barber lays out his vision using a metaphor of three different plates that represent for him the direction of our Donna Nebenzahl is a newspaper and magazine writer and author of Womankind: Faces of Change Around the World. She teaches journalism at Concordia University in Montreal and is currently working on a documentary film about the small farming movement. providing a history of food and how we came to eat the way we do. He and his interlocutors wa x poetic over microor- ganisms and phytoplankton. Barber has lots of ideas about how we should eat, but he comes by them through exploration, and takes us along for the ride. He’s a Jacques Cousteau of the farm. A typical passage: “I wanted to learn the taste of wheat (or relearn it), and to do that, I needed to learn its history. What could account for its odd duality—this all-purpose grain that is every where on my menu but about which I knew close to nothing?” Throughout, Ba rber’s focus remains the same: We must face our future and realize the way we grow and eat food is unsustainable. “ I’m advocating a dif- ferent way of eating,” he says. “ We have whittled down the definition of good eat- ing to local and sustainable, to bumper stickers like ‘go green, grass fed.’ And while those are all important, they’re only important if we can figure out how 36 mindful April 2015 mindful food revolution