Molecular Gastronomy is Overrated
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: Well you know I tend to think like this . . . this molecular gastronomy movement is a little overrated. And that’s more around the world than it is in America, although it’s come here in full blast. And most molecular gastronomy being the . . . the fascination with science and manipulation. So for me, I’m really interested in the science of food, especially the science of agriculture. I think it’s a fascinating field, and I don’t think that one can believe in sustainability and . . . and organic agriculture and . . . and be . . . to believe in that stuff you have to be against modern science and technology. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I think you can believe in the most sustainable cuisine and also want to introduce and learn about the most up to date, innovative cooking techniques and agriculture that occurs in the field, you know? I just . . . The chefs that are totally driven by science and manipulation chemicals to get flavors and textures in food strikes me as like sort of boring. And also as like . . . as like very manipulative. And I really love it. There are some people who are doing it great, so I don’t mean to make a blanket statement about it. It’s wrong to do that because there are people who do it with real responsibility, and real intellect, and real art. So . . . And I think that pushes food along and it’s nice. The problem is nobody is . . . Very few chefs are taking that . . . the time. It’s a huge time investment to learn about all that stuff, and the energy, and you know the capital and stuff, and investing that in the farmers that they’re buying from. You know you could really take that time and show . . . introduce farmers to new seeds or to new techniques in . . . You know and that’s all available on the Internet just like all the molecular gastronomy is. So me, I prefer those chefs who are thinking more about the ingredients and the technology that’s going in the field than rather in the kitchen. But yeah, that sounds a little harsh, but I don’t mean it to be. Okay. Recorded on: 2/11/08
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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