Title: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Author: Dan Barber
"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 InstituteI'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.