Barber is the award-winning chef of Blue Hill, an elegant respite for sustainable cuisine in New York City’s West Village, and Blue Hill Stone Barns, a locavore’s paradise located within the nonprofit farm Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in Tarrytown, NY. Since his early days as a cook, he’s been a pioneering advocate for the farm-to-table movement. But in his revolutionary new book, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, Barber reexamines the farm-to-table movement, and comes away from it a new man, one championing the whole farm, not just what’s most prized for the table.
“For all its successes, farm-to-table has not, in any fundamental way, reworked the economic and political forces that dictate how our food is grown and raised,” wrote Barber in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times. “Big Food is getting bigger, not smaller. In the last five years, we’ve lost nearly 100,000 farms (mostly midsize ones). Today, 1.1 percent of farms in the United States account for nearly 45 percent of farm revenues.”
His solution? Eat more cowpea. Seriously. Instead of cherry-picking crops like tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus and other blockbusters that deplete soil of their most crucial nutrients, Barber proposes we start supporting more humble offerings like buckwheat, cowpea, barley, and mustard greens — which are often used by farmers to enrich the soil in rotation with those A-list vegetables.
The “first plate,” argues Barber, was a classic meal centered on meat with a few vegetables. That gave way to the “second plate,” a new ideal of organic grass-fed meats and local vegetables. Now, he proposes a “third plate”— a new way of eating that’s rooted in cooking with and celebrating the whole farm: vegetables, grains and a smidge of protein. It’s a juicy new holistic approach to food and farming that’s bound to put Barber in the company of legendary food policy gurus like Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.