DAN BARBER is the Chef of Blue Hill, a restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within the nonprofit farm and education center, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. His opinions on food and agricultural policy have appeared in the New York Times, along with many other publications. Barber has received multiple James Beard awards including Best Chef: New York City (2006) and the country's Outstanding Chef (2009). In 2009 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.
To expand on his philosophy of cooking with sustainably grown, local ingredients, Dan has been working with such organizations as the Kellogg Foundation, Slow Food USA and Earth Pledge to minimize the political and intellectual rhetoric around agricultural policies and to instead maximize the appreciation of eating good food. Focusing on the issues of pleasure, taste and regional bounty-and how these imperatives are threatened-Dan helped create the philosophical and practical framework for Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and continues to help guide it in its mission to create a consciousness about the effects of everyday food choices.
He is author of the book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food.
Dan Barber: Yeah. This drive for ethanol has direct effect on everything that’s going on on the farm because it’s driving up fuel prices and it’s driving up grain prices. I mean that’s . . . that’s the irony, is like you know we’re competing . . . ethanol . . . I mean we’re competing with the . . . It’s weird. The vegetables are competing with, like, the SUVs that drive into our restaurant to come and eat. It’s crazy. I mean it’s like the hunger for fuel and our whole fuel system is based on cheap fuel. I mean it has been. It’s no secret. It’s like the great big American breadbasket is based on cheap fuel and cheap labor. And both those things sort of simultaneously . . . Actually cheap fuel, cheap labor, and like a stable weather pattern, you know? And all three of those things are very quickly coming to an end. You know a stable weather pattern and cheap labor, you might argue they won’t affect the cost of food immediately. I might argue it, but I could understand that, you know, the global climate change is not gonna have direct effects right away; although some would argue ...; maybe we can deal with that for a few years without it really affecting. But there’s no question that the rise in $100 barrel of oil that’s ...doesn’t have an effect, and we’ve seen it just over the last year. I mean the price of food has gone through the roof – I mean literally up 75 percent on the food index in just the last year and a half. That’s having huge effects up and down the good chain. And grain . . . I mean that’s why I think, again, the future of this whole movement is so positive. Because if . . . And this is one aspect of it, but probably best to look at it that way. If you’re in the beef cattle business, you know, and your whole mindset is based on feeding grain to your animal quickly and efficiently . . . getting them from a calf to market weight – like 1,400 pounds in as short a time as possible – that’s an economic incentive; in as short a time as possible. To do that you need to feed tremendous amounts of grain; tremendous, tremendous amounts of grain. You need to keep them in the feedlot where their ... becomes a problem that you have to deal with. And you deal with it through energy; through oil that gets transported. But all of it is based . . . The grain that’s fed to the animals is based on cheap oil. It’s the whole thing. So all of a sudden when cheap oil is not $20 a barrel or $40 a barrel – it’s $100 a barrel – down the line you are going to . . . if you’re in that business are going to have to look to other options or pass that price on to the consumer. Now what we’re seeing in this short phase is passed on to the consumer. We’re seeing this big increase in food prices. I don’t think that’s gonna last. I don’t think . . . Americans consider it their right of passage that we have cheap food. And so it seems to me like that falls right into the hands of the sustainable farmer. And what I said to you before is that flavor, ecology, and economy all fall into the same line. And this is where we’re going to see it, because beef cattle – going on that example – doesn’t need grain. It’s an herbivore. It’s meant to eat grass. And where do we have the best grass in the world? Right here in New England. You know and it seems like if you’re a farmer . . . an animal farmer and you have land in . . . around the Northeast, you know you’re gonna have a comparative and competitive advantage very quickly in the next couple of years. That’s exciting, because what’s here . . . Grass is free, and the sun feeds the grass, the grass feeds the animals, the animals feed us. It’s a free system. No more sustainable than that. And it’s gonna be more expensive than the cheap beef that we have. The cheap beef that we have has been totally false, and inhumane, and ecologically unbuyable, and economically unbuyable for this future system. And we’re all gonna see it because the supply siders . . . Like these conservative ... always ... let the marketplace prevail. Let the . . . That’s what they always say about the food. Let the free market make this. Don’t say ...support the small family farmer. Let the marketplace prevail. Well this is what we’re gonna see now, is the marketplace is gonna prevail. And these same people that have been saying all along are gonna ask for subsidies, and more subsidies, and more political regulation to make sure they stay these powerful food mongers which control our food system. And I think . . . I really feel very positive . . . If I was a betting guy, and I’m not . . . But if I was a betting guy I’d be betting on the people that have their eye more on the sun; and more in a sustainable way because it’s gonna be the cheapest food out there. ... about the most flavorful.
Recorded on: 2/11/08