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.
Question: Would you ever consider taking meat off the menu?
Dan Barber: No. It would be the last thing I’d do. I mean there are a lot of things you just said there. They create a lot of methane in part because . . . and a lot of greenhouse trapping gases in part because of how concentrated we have them now. Almost all the cattle raised in this country and increasingly around the world, because everyone is copying our method, is in these confinement operations that . . . that, you know, introduce a whole host of problems – one of them being these trapping gases, and another being the manure and what to do with it. Because manure, of course we all know, is one of the great composting and nutrient benefiting things for soil. But when you have animals in confinement you end up making manure, and manure becomes a big problem that you need to deal with; that you need to get rid of. It isn’t an attribute; it’s a waste. And so there are all these environmental problems around raising meat in the way that we have shown that we can raise meat, which in the last 50 years is basically industrialization and basically confinement. And that’s been the wrong direction. We’ve seen that. It’s definitely given us this cheap food system, but it’s totally unsustainable. And I would say economically, as I argued before, it’s unsustainable for the future. So would I ever take meat off the menu? No, because look. New England is the absolute best place in the world – in the country at least – to raise sustainable meat because of the great grassland, and because of the ecological conditions that are natural to this environment. So you know would I take off animals that, you know . . . herbivores like a beef cattle that’s fed in a grain intensive diet? Yes. We don’t . . . We actually don’t have beef on the menu right now . . . right at this particular moment because I don’t have a supplier right now that’s feeding all grass that I’m really excited about. So we took it off the menu, yes. But the idea that we’d take off lamb . . . local lamb or local pork, I mean that makes no sense because in fact the Northeast . . . For all this desire to support small family, local farms, New England is the harshest conditions in the world to grow vegetables. We talked about the pleasure. The reality is, you know, it’s very difficult. We’re not California. We’re not Florida. We’re not Texas. We’re not Arizona. And so very difficult to make money . . . real money and preserve real land by growing vegetables. The God-given landscape is for animal agriculture. And you know you, and I, and everyone out there could be doing more for open space, and for small family farms, and for local food systems by eat a lot of meat, especially during the winter.
Question: What about the deforestation argument?
Transcript:Well yeah, I mean right. You’re getting into, you know, the world’s demand for meat. And do I think that the American consumption of meat is something that could be replicated in China and in Southeast Asia and all these developing economies? Clearly not. Clearly not. We have to . . . We don’t have enough . . . We’re not two things. A, we don’t have the right system for raising meat that’s sustainable in this country that doesn’t cause great environmental damage and great inhumanity to the animals. So that’s one. And the other is even if everyone was taken out of this confinement and put on this open grassland, we probably don’t have enough grassland to feed all the people in the world on an American meat consumption diet. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean that . . . I don’t know. What does that lead to? It leads to, you know, a change in diet, and a change in how we cook. And the . . . The age of the . . . of the, you know, 14 ounce steak, you know, that’s . . . that’s gone. It was gone a few years ago. It’s really gone now. It’s gonna be too expensive. And “too expensive” I say as a broader term – too expensive, we’re seeing, for our health; too expensive for the, you know, environmental damage that it causes; and now thankfully too (01:00:32) expensive for the economy that it . . . that it requires. So you know that’s the future and I think . . . I don’t . . . There isn’t a cuisine in the world . . . I mean you’re asking really about the world question. How do we feed this supposed 10 billion people in the next 25 years? How do we feed the world? And if you look at the Chinese traditional diet; if you look at the Indian . . . Of course the Indian traditional diet they don’t eat meat. You look at the Indian, the Chinese, you look at Middle Eastern . . . You look at all these countries, the meat consumption as a . . . versus grain and vegetables always very small; very, very small. Those are traditional diets. Those are traditional diets based on what was available, and it seems to me like we’re gonna have to go back to that. This Americanization of, you know, you can keep eating your meat and have as much as you want is probably a thing of the past.
Recorded on: 2/11/08