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BOOK REVIEW: The Third Plate by Dan Barber


Reviewed by Victoria Kemmits
Sales & Operations Specialist

In his colorful style and honest approach, decorated chef Dan Barber offers readers a global perspective on local food in The Third Plate. Many people who are aware of the local food movement seldom think beyond the local farmers market and organic label. But using his unique position as a renowned chef and a local-food enthusiast, Barber offers us a chance to think even further about what we eat and why. Does food shape a culture or does culture control the way people eat? He argues, the answer is yes. For thousands of years, cultures were identified by their cuisine. Local flavors and food traditions defined regional identity and personal heritage.

And with that insight and perspective, he gives us a warning. After the Green Revolution and with the unprecedented expansion of industrial agriculture, more than small family farms are being swept away to distant memory. Distinct flavor is a thing of the past in most commercial kitchens. Mealtime traditions in family homes are sacrificed for the sake of doing more, earning more, achieving more. People have lost their sense of place, their knowledge of personal and regional history, and eating has been reduced to the level of fueling a car: energy in for more energy out.

Drawing from examples across the globe, Barber captures small pieces of culture that are still alive and thriving. Starting with the very soil that supports the life we depend on, he visits Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens of Penn Yann, New York, who operate Lakeview Organic Grain, dealers for Albert Lea Seed. After coming to the conclusion that the health of soil must be preserved before agriculture can be successful, the couple built a farm, then a business, and more broadly a whole community, based on nutrition and flavor that is poised to grow and thrive for generations. 

He draws from the experiences of Eduardo Sousa in Spain, who produces coveted jamon pork and goose fois gras without any force-feeding or pen-fattening, in the tradition his family and other farmers in his region have been preserving and perfecting for hundreds of years.

He covers the condition of sea life with the help of Spanish chefs who have been protecting the bluefin tuna population from overfishing in their waters for two thousand years. 

He gives Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills a platform to discuss local seed breeding and how it is crucial for farmers and gardens to look beyond heirloom, to appreciate nutrition and viability as qualities to nurture and protect. 

And finally he turns to his own sphere of influence of Blue Hill Farms and the Stone Barns Center as examples of the responsibility each food consumer has to make choices about the long-term impacts of their food choices.

A worthwhile read for producers and consumers, Barber paints an engaging picture for the culture, community, and future of food.

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