The title of Dan Barber's recently released book lends itself to a very broad scope. What exactly does the future of food mean? What will food look like? How will we produce it? Who, if anyone, will farm in the future?!
As a future feeder, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. The pages now bear illegible scrawl and increasingly emphatic pencil underlining (a hangover from my university days) as the chapters continue.
Not sure Barber has all the answers to the questions posed but the book certainly makes for hopeful and engaging reading. Through his meandering tales he provides a window into a vast and wonderful world of fish farmers, grain growers, dairy farmers, livestock breeders, free-range foie-gras goose lovers, seed savers and breeders, scientists, activists and foodies. Barber champions the fringe farmers, the innovators and rule-breakers and will have you believe that anything is possible for the future of food. Indeed, it is happening already.
As a chef Barber has always been preoccupied with produce and the food production system. His passion for sourcing ethical produce led him to eventually believe that the farm to table movement has failed. It is this disillusionment that fuels Barber's search for a more real concept of the farm to table movement that develops through the chapters of the book.
The Third Plate is Barber's attempt to go "beyond raising awareness about the importance of farmers and sustainable agriculture." If we are to truly understand the connection between farm to table we must go beyond. Nostalgia for the agrarian lifestyle and heirloom vegetables is just not going to cut it.
Food should truly reflect the land, culture and people that created it. Not only that, food should taste good too. Barber believes that by working together "farmers, chefs, and breeders can become part of a complex web of relationships that supports the health of the land." Which is to say, the health of the land sits above all else.
To do this, chefs will need to learn to "cook with the whole farm," as Barber puts it. For example, 80 percent of American farmland is currently in grain production while fruit and vegetables occupy about 8 percent. What everyone, including chefs, fixates on is vegetables. Barber argues that in this instance whole farm cooking would mean accurately reflecting the prevalence of grains rather than the vegetables in a given dish - use more of what you've got. Whole farm cooking adheres to what the landscape provides.
You many not find answers here but you will find a compelling and refreshing view of the past, current and potential of a redesigned food production system. Barber does extremely well to peel back the deceptively shiny veneer of the farm to table movement, breaking down the idealism to reveal an incredibly complex world of competing structures and vested interests.
The overriding message is one of hope. As grain farmer Wes Jackson (founder of The Land Institute) says to Barber, "If you're working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you're not thinking big enough."
If you're a farmer, chef, foodie, consumer, fisher or sometime eater you'd be well advised to sink your teeth into this wonderful offering. 10/10
Future Feeders Team