Friday, October 30, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: October 2015

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Author: Dan Barber
via Goodreads
"If you're working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you're not thinking big enough." - Wes Jackson, co-founder of The Land Institute
I'm not usually big on quotes.  But when I read that one in The Third Plate, I loved it so much I put it up on the whiteboard in my classroom where it has remained for several weeks.  They're wonderful words to live by and they provide a fine summation of Barber's book.  The Third Plate is similar to The Omnivore's Dilemma (my review here) in many ways, tracing the origins of our food from farm to table: flour, fois gras, Spanish ham and seafood.  

Unlike Michael Pollan, though, Dan Barber is a chef rather than a journalist.  As such, his primary motivation is flavor.  His conclusion is essentially the same: sustainable agricultural practices are the best.  One should farm according to ecological principles, feeding the ecosystem what it demands rather than bending it to commercial demands.  His reason, though, is different: such an approach to farming produces tastier food.  What's more, he asserts that chefs have a responsibility to promote more responsible practices through the composition of their menus.

The Third Plate exposes many of the ills of the food industry: soil depletion, over-fishing, monocultures, etc.  Barber highlights several farmers and scientists practicing by new methods, many of which are simply more like the old pre-industrial methods.  The solutions aren't always so simple, though.  Quality of food often comes at the cost of quantity.  High yield is the driving motivator for agribusiness and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.  As Barber admits, Monsanto isn't going anywhere.  The altruistic side of the equation is complicated, too.  How do we farm responsibly and also meet the demands of a hungry - too often, starving - world?

All of which leads back to the quote above.  The solutions to the major food questions of the age are not going to come easily, perhaps not in our own lifetimes.  But if we don't get to work on them now, the outlook for future generations may be quite dire.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post November's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is November 27th.


20 comments:

  1. This sounds interesting. I found Pollan's "Defense of Food" to be a wonderful and enlightening read. Thanks for the review.

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    1. I haven't read that one yet but I'm definitely interested.

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  2. Quantity also depletes the food of vitamins and things. That's a finite supply within the plant, so, if you make it yield more fruit, the vitamin distribution is thinner.

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    1. Absolutely. This particular book doesn't address nutrition as much as Omnivore's Dilemma does.

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  3. What an interesting book and what a quote.
    I just read several stories on my BBC News feed about how they (of course us too) waste so much food. Plus the super markets that only want the perfect pretty vegs so farmers are going broke because they have to throw out 3/4 of their crops. With hunger every where how can we be tossing out food !
    I think I will post about this on my Monday post.

    Terrific review as always.
    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Omnivore's Dilemma deals more with the waste issue, particularly with the perpetual surplus of feed corn.

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    2. The waste of food is terrible. I try not to buy something unless I'm sure I'll use it, but I know grocery stores and restaurants throw out all sorts of things. During the Great Depression, the government paid farmers to plow under their crops and kill their hogs. Why those hogs weren't used to feed hungry people has always gone beyond my comprehension.

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    3. Sadly, it was all about price controls. Unfortunately, American agricultural policy rarely has anything to do with actually feeding people.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this one! I'm a big fan of books with food at the center, and I truly want to buy more organic products, but the money only goes so far.

    Loved that quote, and to the point Parsip raised about food waste, and imperfect produce, there are venues in my area (Chicagoland) which take these "cast off" foods and give them away to the poor via food banks. I have family who truly subsidize their diet from a neighborhood food bank that gives out bags of "groceries" (nearly always second-tier fruits and veggies) every Friday. I hope that we can do better to reclaim some of that produce that isn't aesthetically "perfect" but is perfectly edible.

    Thanks for sharing! And, Happy Halloween!
    V:)

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    1. As a chef, Barber is certainly not one to belittle aesthetic presentation, though he is upfront about his priorities. Flavor is paramount.

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  5. Great quote! I haven't heard of this book before, but it sounds interesting. I am curious about it especially because of the point of view it was written from (chef). I do my best to buy local and buy organic. I gave up meat over a year ago and try to purchase only a few groceries at a time. Still, I know I have waste sometimes, but I am continuing to work on it. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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    1. I think either Pollan or Barber would say the fact that you're putting thought into what you buy is a good start.

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  6. That sounds good, like Chez Panisse--not that I've ever eaten there. I've been in the same city. Maybe that counts.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Chez Panisse is mentioned. There's a story about a peach.

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  7. This: The altruistic side of the equation is complicated, too. How do we farm responsibly and also meet the demands of a hungry - too often, starving - world?
    Yes, this is (obviously) a complicated issue. I must admit, I tend to shy away from organic/local foods because of the expense. We have committed to buying cage-free eggs...which is really a small step. I do think it is important that there is a cultural dialogue about food, where it comes from, and the costs - moral and ecological.

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    1. The expense issue is a big one. Both Pollan and Barber admit that. Good intentions will only get us so far if people can't afford to feed themselves.

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  8. I want to eat meat, but I want to eat it humanely. Therefore, I think this is a really interesting dilemma. I am committed to buying certain types of meat and dairy in the grocery store. Even so, I sense that this is not enough. I probably need to read books like this and many others like it.

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    1. Barber is an unapologetic omnivore. He does discuss the ethics of raising animals, particularly in regards to ducks and geese, but he is motivated more by flavor and sustainability than compassion. Omnivore's Dilemma is the better read for the quandary you present.

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  9. This sounds like an interesting but sobering read.

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    1. Definitely sobering - constructive, though.

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