THE COMING REVOLUTION IN WHAT WE EAT, HOW IT'S RAISED AND WHERE IT COMES FROM? ASK DAN BARBER.
FARM-TO-TABLE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
We all know that our food habits are changing. No longer are we happy with the anytime, any season processes and products we’ve grown up with; pears and cucumbers imported from Mexico and the Philippines a week before Christmas, colorful maybe but tasteless. Farm to table restaurants are all the rage in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago even though the tiny squares of orange and blue prettily arranged flora and fauna on your plate will set you back a weeks paycheck. Farmers markets are exploding across the land as folks rediscover the joys and taste of fresh seasonal fare. Organic has become a label not only on view in Whole Foods and Yes Market but the term is now a common one seen in the aisles of Safeway, Walmart and Publix. This new attention to fresh, humanely grown and harvested fruits, meats and veggies may not have peaked yet in Mobile and Peoria, but it’s only a matter of time before it will.
Enter Blue Hill farm and restaurant owner Dan Barber leading the charge not only for seasonal, fresh farm products but championing an entirely new way of considering what we eat, where it comes from and how it’s raised. Dan is the founder of two farm to table restaurants, Blue Hill in New York’s Greenwich Village and Blue Hill at Stone Farm 30 miles north of New York in the Hudson River Valley. Dan, like many of the latest crop of star chefs, is a believer and practitioner of the fresh, organic, field to table movement but Dan takes things to a whole new level of dedication and commitment.
In sourcing his restaurants from his own farm and those he contracts with, Dan has gone back to the roots of our food supply down to the very soil in championing crop rotation, fields left fallow for a growing season, animal waste used as fertilizer, engineering new vegetables for pumped up flavor, and a host of activities that point towards a fundamental revolution in our agricultural supply and distribution system as the “farm-to-table” movement continues to grow and spread. Dan Barber is probably the most effective and compelling spokesperson I’ve ever seen when it comes to changing our big agri-business food supply chain. He is knowledgeable, lacks the arrogance that infuses so many TV star chefs, explains connections in easily understood terms, the restaurant business and the food industry in terms you and me can understand and comes across as basically a good – if driven and impatient – guy.
Our everything, anytime, everywhere, food supply system is based on large, mechanized, corporate controlled farms that evolved in the post World War II period and fundamentally altered the way the world grows food. This system can be credited with pretty much ending starvation in most of the world and promoting cheap, readily available and healthful food for almost everyone. But here in America we’ve evolved of late into a society much more akin to our European compatriots paying much more attention to the food we eat, where it comes from, how its grown or raised and what it tastes like. We are in the midst of a revolution, a small one for the moment, and its impact on reformulating our stodgy agri-business and how long it will take before farm to table becomes as common as grapes from Peru in our grocery stores remains unknown.
But surprising events have already taken place. Perdue, the nation’s second largest chicken producer after Tyson Foods, conducted an experiment on a percentage of its Maryland farms and discovered that eliminating hormones and antibiotics from their chicken's eggs and diets and providing them more space (not free range but an improvement nonetheless) did result in a drop in final weight by 3 ounces and about 5% of its chickens did fall to disease, but these losses were more than made up for by cost savings in drugs. Now all of Perdue’s chickens are drug and hormone free. While we might dream of a return to small, family run, 40 acre farms to supply us and the world with food, this is unlikely to happen any time soon if at all. But when Perdue willingly conforms to practices championed by the organic, fresh, farm to table movement, it’s a very good sign.
I became aware of Dan Barber through Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” series (Dan is featured in Episode 2) although he seems to have become a farm to table media star with Ted Talks, New York Times and New Yorker pieces, and You Tube videos under his belt. I recommend the Netflix episode if you want to find out more about him and more about the coming revolution in our food supply. Dan’s plates in his Blue Hill restaurants are pretty but it’s the invisible connections between those plates and the earth’s soil where it all begins, is what Dan wants us to think about. After you watch him, you will – like me – be convinced that rethinking the farm sourced, farm to table movement, all the way down to the soil that supports animal, vegetable and fruit production, is the only way to go.
Have A Good Healthy Food Day!