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The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food Paperback – April 7, 2015
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A groundbreaking chef at one of Manhattan’s first farm-to-table restaurants, Barber shares his vision of good food’s future. Cooking per se doesn’t constitute this chef’s passion. He cares about where foods come from, how they’re grown, and whether they can be harvested into the future. To learn about soil’s role, he visits an organic farm in upstate New York, where an insightful, dedicated farmer diversifies crops and grows for quality and not solely for quantity. A Spanish farmer teaches Barber about producing foie gras without force-feeding. He investigates fisheries. All this leaves Barber with some innovative ideas about how people ought to be eating—a third plate of grains, vegetables, and some meat or fish, all grown with ecological awareness and commitment to sustainability. Such a change from current ideas about dining fast and cheap calls for retraining the public palate away from blandness and uniformity and encouraging eaters to demand unique and distinctive flavors. --Mark Knoblauch --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The Chicago Tribune
“[A]uthor Dan Barber's tales are engaging, funny and delicious... The Third Plate invites inevitable comparisons with Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which Barber invokes more than once. And, indeed, its framework of a foodie seeking truth through visits with sages and personal experiments echoes Pollan's landmark tome (not to mention his passages on wheat cultivation, which, astonishingly, best Pollan's corn cultivation chapters by many pages.) But at the risk of heresy, I would call this The Omnivore's Dilemma 2.0... The Third Plate serves as a brilliant culinary manifesto with a message as obvious as it is overlooked. Promote, grow and eat a diet that's in harmony with the earth and the earth will reward you for it. It's an inspiring message that could truly help save our water, air and land before it's too late.”
The Washington Post
"Not since Michael Pollan has such a powerful storyteller emerged to reform American food.... Barber is helping to write a recipe for the sustainable production of gratifying food."
“There hasn’t been a call-to-action book with the potential to change the way we eat since Michael Pollan’s 2006 release, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Now there is. Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food is a compelling global journey in search of a new understanding about how to build a more sustainable food system….The Third Plate is an argument for good rather than an argument against bad. This recipe might at times be challenging, but what’s served in the end is a dish for a better future….Barber writes a food manifesto for the ages.”
The Wall Street Journal:
"Compelling... The Third Plate reimagines American farm culture not as a romantic return to simpler times but as a smart, modern version of it...The Third Plate is fun to read, a lively mix of food history, environmental philosophy and restaurant lore... an important and exciting addition to the sustainability discussion.”
“When The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s now-classic 2006 work, questioned the logic of our nation’s food system, 'local' and 'organic' weren’t ubiquitous the way they are today. Embracing Pollan’s iconoclasm, but applying it to the updated food landscape of 2014, The Third Plate reconsiders fundamental assumptions of the movement Pollan’s book helped to spark. In four sections—'Soil,' 'Land,' 'Sea,' and 'Seed'—The Third Plate outlines how his pursuit of intense flavor repeatedly forced him to look beyond individual ingredients at a region’s broader story—and demonstrates how land, communities, and taste benefit when ecology informs the way we source, cook, and eat.”
The New York Times:
"Each grain represents an agricultural virtue: Rye, for example, builds carbon in the soil. Taken together, they argue for a new way of thinking about the production and consumption of food, a 'whole farm' approach that Mr. Barber explores, eloquently and zestfully, in The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food... Mr. Barber’s subjects tend to be colorfully eccentric and good talkers, capable of philosophizing by the yard. To put their efforts in context, Mr. Barber unobtrusively weaves in a hefty amount of science and food history. Readers will put the book down having learned quite a bit... Mr. Barber is a stylish writer and a funny one, too."
Publishers Weekly:“Barber’s work is a deeply thoughtful and–offering a ‘menu for 2050’–even visionary work for a sustainable food chain.”
Vice President Al Gore:
"Dan Barber’s new book, The Third Plate, is an eloquent and thoughtful look at the current state of our nation’s food system and how it must evolve. Barber’s wide range of experiences, both in and out of the kitchen, provide him with a rare perspective on this pressing issue. A must read.”
Ruth Reichl, author of Garlic and Sapphires and Tender at the Bone:
“In this compelling read Dan Barber asks questions that nobody else has raised about what it means to be a chef, the nature of taste, and what 'sustainable' really means. He challenges everything you think you know about food; it will change the way you eat. If I could give every cook just one book, this would be the one.”
Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Command and Control:
"Dan Barber is not only a great chef, he's also a fine writer. His vision of a new food system—based on diversity, complexity, and a reverence for nature—isn't utopian. It's essential."
Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath and The Tipping Point:
“I thought it would be impossible for Dan Barber to be as interesting on the page as he is on the plate. I was wrong.”
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction and Field Notes from a Catastrophe:
“The Third Plate is one of those rare books that's at once deft and searching—deeply serious and equally entertaining. Dan Barber will change the way you look at food.”
Eliot Coleman, author of The New Organic Grower and The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook:
"After my first meal at Blue Hill, I paid Dan the ultimate farmer compliment. I told him that he made vegetables taste almost fresher after he had prepared them than when the farmer harvested them. Now I am equally impressed with his writing. Food has stories and Dan tells the stories as well as he cooks. If you want to know about food, read this book."
Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon:
“Dan Barber writes with the restrained lushness with which he cooks. In elegant prose, he argues persuasively that eating is our most profound engagement with the non-human world. How we eat makes us who we are and makes the environment what it is. It all needs to change, and Barber has written a provocative manifesto that balances brave originality and meticulous research. His food is farm-to-table; his eloquent, impassioned book is farm-to-heart."
Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home:
“Dan Barber is as fine a thinker and writer as he is a chef—which is saying a great deal. This book uses its ingredients—the insights of some of the finest farmers on the planet—to fashion something entirely new: a recipe for the future.”
Top customer reviews
Let me start off by saying that I had no idea who Dan Barber was until I picked up this book. All of my impressions of him (and his beliefs) are based on what I read in The Third Plate.
The Good: (and I mean REALLY good)
This book essentially examines the relationships between our food and the environment in which it is raised/grown. That sounds simple, and has been looked at before, but this book takes it to a whole new level. I don't think I've EVER read something that managed to turn my beliefs upside down quite the same way this book did. I have a fairly large organic backyard vegetable garden & keep chickens, and before this book I would have called myself an environmentalist. I would have told you I was doing things the *right* way because it's organic, it's local, it's healthy, etc. This book turns those notions upside down. Barber made me really think about how I see "my" garden, "my" chickens, and "my" yard - and start to think of really and truly integrating the things I want to grow with all the other stuff that naturally wants to live there. Barber's ideas aren't terribly original, but he presented them in a way that was completely and utterly fascinating - and certainly made ME re-think my place and my role in growing my own food.
The other thing I loved about this book was that Barber covers the same familiar ground as others - the evils of monoculture crops, the dangers of pesticides, fishing species to extinction, etc. - but he does it in a way that is fresh and interesting. He weaves his research throughout the narrative, and the result is short bursts of information that hit you hard and make you stop & think, but then he moves on before you get bogged down. In reading this book I felt like I was learning a lot, but I never felt like I was reading a textbook. To compare - I liked Omnivore's Dilemma as much as the next person, but I can't deny that my eyes would glaze over if I read too much at once. Barber's book is the complete opposite - lots of personal stories, reflections, and anecdotes are woven WITH the research in a way that is highly readable. No caffeine required.
The Bad: (and it's unfortunately REALLY bad)
Barber believes that in order for change to occur in this country it has to start at the top. The top being elite chefs, like himself. He describes himself as the "conductor" of a large "symphony," and he uses that analogy frequently throughout the book. From what I gather from this book, Barber essentially works in the food equivalent of an ivory tower. His restaurant is funded by the Rockefellers, and he is surrounded by his own personal organic farm, where he can grow anything he wants. He then takes that "superior" food and charges exorbitant amounts of money for the wealthy folks who can afford to eat at his restaurant. His book is dripping with elitism, and most of the time I felt like he was so out of touch with reality it was laughable.
Barber contrasts the monoculture crops in America (and all their evils) with what he thinks are better examples of the way food *should* be grown. He visits farms and interviews the farmers who are changing the way we think about farming in general (which is good). Unfortunately his "examples" were of things like fois gras and jamón ibérico - some of the most expensive products on the planet. It's VERY hard to appreciate the science behind what Barber is trying to say when he backs it up with $700 goose liver examples. His ideas would have been a LOT more meaningful if he had found examples of people growing tomatoes and potatoes according to his idealistic vision of how farming *should* be. Instead, the only successful examples he seems to have found were of people who made it work because their way of farming is essentially supported by the wealthy. While I can appreciate those farmers and what they are trying to do, I was extremely put off by the rampant elitism and snobbery.
I also couldn't stomach the 'top down' approach that Barber takes - mainly that change won't ever happen until the best chefs in the world take it upon themselves to start a revolution on behalf of the rest of us. Although I could appreciate Barber's perspective, it was still obnoxious. I also happen to think he has it completely backwards. He's preaching to the wealthy few who can eat at his restaurant, thinking "his" views will naturally trickle down. The won't, simply because the "rest" of us (myself included) are concerned with putting affordable food on the table every week of the year. Most people have no idea that the tomatoes they buy at Walmart don't taste anything like real tomatoes. They don't know because "real" tomatoes don't have any place in their lives - not in the stores or the restaurants they eat at - much less that there are thousands of different TYPES of actual tomatoes. I had no idea until I grew a tomato plant, and I only did that because initially I was looking for ways to save money and still eat healthy foods. I wasn't on a quest for "elite" tomatoes, and it was only by accident that I discovered how MUCH better homegrown food tastes.
REAL change has to start with the millions of people that Barber ignores - the regular, everyday middle class & poor. Those are the folks shelling out the money to support our food industry, one box of macaroni & cheese at a time. Until those dollars band together and begin supporting more sustainable agriculture, change won't happen. And until that sustainable agriculture becomes affordable, people will still buy those boxes of mac & cheese. What Barber serves or doesn't serve in his restaurant has virtually nothing to do with that cycle.
Barber lives in his ivory tower and preaches about how things *should* be, while the rest of us are worrying about making ends meet. So on the one hand I appreciated Barber's research and agreed with his connections between "the land" and good food, but on the other hand it was a little offensive to wade through 400+ pages of an elitist chef go on & on about perfecting ingredients most people have never even heard of. He may have interesting things to say, but he is SO far out of touch with reality that it all just comes across as idealistic nonsense.
Overall: solid 3 stars
Definitely worth the read, especially if you keep your own garden or backyard animals. It will make you think about the complex relationships between the soil, the plants, and the animals, and probably in a way you haven't considered before. It certainly did for me. But that 5-star research was seriously undermined by the 'Lord of the Manor' perspective, which was sometimes a little too tedious and obnoxious to stomach.
of historical value, like seed collecting began 8000 years ago and why and how seed collecting gave the south the greatest agricultural fame by farmers who knew about crop diversity, healthy soil (Our national treasure)
collecting seeds from the most flavorful crips.Mainly, it is a wonderful book, a page turner, you feel part of it.
I am only 75 pages into the book and already feel the need to change the way I approach food. This could easily be a "page turner" book that could be finished in a day, but instead I want to savor it, take the time to read and understand, absorb what is being offered and adapt it to how I approach my profession.
Chef Barber offers a truly brilliant work that is a must read for every chef, restaurateur, farmer, environmentalist and advocate for an improved food system in our country.
Run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore or jump on the internet to order it immediately. I am serious, it is that important.
I have a lifelong fascination, so I read books and blogs about food and have for years. Interestingly, Dan Barber's point of view in this book is very different from what I've read before. I am left wondering why no one asked those questions before.
A delightful read for anyone who enjoys reading about food and/or those concerned with the consequences of industrialized food production. And definitely for all you foodies out there. You know who you are.