The Third Plate: Dan Barber Writes About the Future of Food

           Farm to table carrot potage

The farm-to-table movement has advocates from many walks of life: farmers interested in growing better food, chefs wishing to serve a more flavorful meal, and diners wishing to eat food that has been grown locally. Farm-to-table chefs work with local farmers to serve seasonal produce that is more sustainable than most farming practices in America. Dan Barber, award-winning executive chef of Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan and its affiliate nonprofit farm Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and celebrated author, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2009 for his activism in food and agricultural reform. In Barber’s book, The Third Plate, he describes farm-to-table as a “mainstream social movement [in which] success comes with mounting evidence that our country’s indomitable and abundant food system, for so long the envy of the world, is unstable, if not broken.” The farm-to-table movement and the future of food, according to Barber, can be defined as an integrated system of food production that is supported where good food and good farming intersect.

Food from the farm

Barber argues that the incredible abundance of food in America has lead to a lack of awareness from Americans. To survive harsh winters, older nations have had to develop traditional ways of preserving local foods and making use of every bit of the food they had. America doesn’t have a deeply ingrained history of preservation, which has lead to wasteful practices. He states that, “Our belief that we can create a sustainable diet for ourselves by cherry-picking great ingredients is wrong. We can’t think about changing parts of our system. We need to think about redesigning the system.” In using seasonal produce, farm-to-table practitioners are forced to draw on known preservation techniques and find ways to redesign their menus in more sustainable ways.

Garlic

The farm-to-table movement creates its cuisine using ingredients that “reflect what the landscape can provide” rather than using crops that dominate their environment. Barber asserts that American farming practices deplete soil nutrition, diminish flavor, and destroy ecological communities. He says, “Monocultures impoverish life and all its fantastic little ecosystems. They depopulate landscapes.” Agricultural reform of high yielding single crop fields is essential for creating sustainable ecology. Barber includes a quote from organic farmer and agricultural statesman, Klaas Martens, who warns, “Among the hardest lessons to learn in farming is that too much of a good thing isn’t good.” Farm-to-table integrates sustainable farming practices and uses uncelebrated crops and cuts of meat to produce the most delicious food the local environment can provide.

Dan Barber's cauliflower steak

Barber discusses the role of “chef as activist” as being an important factor in restaurant reform. Since the appearance of modern gastronomy, he says chefs “possess the potential to get people to rethink their eating habits” by responding “against a global food economy that erodes cultures and cuisines.” Barber states, “Farm-to-table restaurants promote their menus as having evolved to forage first and create later. The promise of farm-to-table cooking is that menus take their shape from the constraints of local agriculture and celebrate them.” Chefs have the opportunity to be the creative glue behind reforming the American food system by advocating local and seasonal produce grown in sustainable ways.

Dan Barber states, “Taste is a soothsayer, a truth teller. And it can be a guide in re-imagining our food system, and our diets, from the ground up.” Good food comes from more than what can be found on the dinner plate. Good food also can be reflected in sustainable farming practices, visionary menus, and creative efforts in using what foods are available now. He says, “Truly delicious food is contingent on an entire system of agriculture.” Farm-to-table sets a model for good eating in a country that has not been bound to strong traditions. It is shaping a food system for the future, one meal at a time.

 

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Where Cabbage is Concerned…

…size does matter.

Cabbage kiss

This beautiful Brassica came from the Abode farm. We’ve formed a little bit of a love affair, the cabbage and I.

He is such a man. He opens doors for me and he pays for my dinner. He’s got so much green he practically gives it away. As you can see, we are a very affectionate couple.

Last night was a big night for us. First, I quartered him and shredded him with a knife and then I put him in a bowl. Then I added some shredded carrots, chopped onions and parsley to said bowl. Oh, how hearty did we party.

Slaw ingredients

Next, I felt we really needed to grease things up, so I splashed in some balsamic glaze along with sesame and olive oil. Things were getting crazy.

Of course, we couldn’t go further without the added excitement of salt, black pepper, cumin, paprika and dijon mustard. We considered inviting mayonnaise (we have a bit of a dependency) but decided to go without.

Light coleslaw

After shouting out his name a few times, my lovely cabbage and I made beautiful coleslaw together. What a night.

Light Coleslaw

Ingredients

    • A Brassica of your own (cabbage), shredded
    • 1-2 Shredded carrot
    • Chopped parsley
    • Chopped onion
    • Balsamic vinegar glaze
    • Sesame oil
    • Olive oil
    • Salt
    • Black pepper
    • Cumin powder
    • Paprika
    • Dijon mustard

Directions

Mix all ingredients to taste.

All spices (including dijon) should be about ½ tsp, but you should adjust according to preference.

Variations

Use a more flamboyant purple cabbage, instead of green.

Lemon or apple cider vinegar could be used instead of balsamic.

Stone ground mustard is lighter than dijon, so if you’re a bit squeamish when mustard is involved, it could be a good replacement.

Mayonnaise. Do it.

Back to Basics and Arugula

I have recently returned (from where will have to wait for multiple other posts) to the place of my birth, a spiritual Sufi community called the Abode of the Message in the Berkshires of upstate New York. Though I wasn’t raised here, it is a place where I have spent a lot of time and have grown to have a strong connection with. The Abode is a converted old Shaker Village with beautiful buildings, some of which are as old as 265 years.

Fatah at the Abode

It is a very peaceful (when the bugs aren’t attacking) and quaint sort of place.

About 37 years ago, it was bought by a group of hippies who needed a space to meditate and be self-sufficient. The Abode turned out to be the perfect spot for their needs. Belle, the lovely draft horse plows the organic farm.

Fatah at the Abode red barnBelle

The farm produces food for the community and its events.The Abode Farm

The herb garden is where herbs, spices and edible flowers are grown.The Herb Garden at the Abode

Herbs are harvested, dried and stored in the apothecary for remedies and teas.The Abode Apothocary

And then there’s the kitchen… oh, the kitchen. So many warm memories of my time at The Abode have been spent making food in this kitchen.The Abode Kitchen

It is well stocked and well-loved.Big woks in the kitchen

With its large convection oven, massive woks and high heat candy cooker, the kitchen combines the efficiency of a commercial kitchen with the cozy realness of grandma’s country home.Spice Jars

Original brick façade exposed, warm wood counters and the beauty of old Shaker construction, the Abode kitchen oozes history from its very pores.The kitchen at the Abode

I often wonder what meals this kitchen has seen. What failures and successes have been cooked here? How was the food spiced when my parents were doing the cooking? What methods did the Shakers use?  What has been the largest number of people served here? There are probably ways to find answers, but I don’t think I’d be satisfied with them. Some queries are best left to wonder about.Little woks and iron skillets

Because the reality of this place is entwined with memories from my childhood, I never quite got over my sense of awe. The buildings are old and creaky, there are unused things from previous residents stored all over the property and awesomely creepy cellars in just about every building.creepy basement

I have mixed feelings about being back (the open road calls me constantly), temporary as my stay here will be, but it’s certainly a great place to explore cookery.  And here I am, just in time for harvest season. So many cooking opportunities, so little time.

Here’s a simple summer salad fresh picked from the garden:

Baby Arugula Mixed Salad

Salad Ingredients

  • arugula
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • black and/or green olives
  • roasted almonds pieces

Vinaigrette Ingredients

  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil

Directions

Wash, slice, mix and enjoy ingredientsArugula salad