The Third Plate

The Third Plate

Field Notes on the Future of Food

Book - 2014
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Penguin Putnam
"[E]ngaging, funny and delicious... I would call this The Omnivore's Dilemma 2.0.” --Chicago Tribune

At the heart of today’s optimistic farm-to-table food culture is a dark secret: the local food movement has failed to change how we eat. It has also offered a false promise for the future of food. Our concern over factory farms and chemically grown crops might have sparked a social movement, but chef Dan Barber, recently showcased on Netflix's Chef's Table, reveals that even the most enlightened eating of today is ultimately detrimental to the environment and to individual health. And it doesn’t involve truly delicious food. Based on ten years of surveying farming communities around the world, Barber’s The Third Plate offers a radical new way of thinking about food that will heal the land and taste good, too.

The Third Plate is grounded in the history of American cuisine over the last two centuries. Traditionally, we have dined on the “first plate,” a classic meal centered on a large cut of meat with few vegetables. Thankfully, that’s become largely passé. The farm-to-table movement has championed the “second plate,” where the meat is from free-range animals and the vegetables are locally sourced. It’s better-tasting, and better for the planet, but the second plate’s architecture is identical to that of the first. It, too, is damaging—disrupting the ecological balances of the planet, causing soil depletion and nutrient loss—and in the end it isn’t a sustainable way to farm or eat.

The solution, explains Barber, lies in the “third plate”: an integrated system of vegetable, grain, and livestock production that is fully supported—in fact, dictated—by what we choose to cook for dinner. The third plate is where good farming and good food intersect.

While the third plate is a novelty in America, Barber demonstrates that this way of eating is rooted in worldwide tradition. He explores the time-honored farming practices of the southern Spanish dehesa, a region producing high-grade olives, acorns, cork, wool, and the renowned jamón ibérico. Off the Straits of Gibraltar, Barber investigates the future of seafood through a revolutionary aquaculture operation and an ancient tuna-fishing ritual. In upstate New York, Barber learns from a flourishing mixed-crop farm whose innovative organic practices have revived the land and resurrected an industry. And in Washington State he works with cutting-edge seedsmen developing new varieties of grain in collaboration with local bakers, millers, and malt makers. Drawing on the wisdom and experience of chefs and farmers from around the world, Barber builds a dazzling panorama of ethical and flavorful eating destined to refashion Americans’ deepest beliefs about food.

A vivid and profound work that takes readers into the kitchens and fields revolutionizing the way we eat, The Third Plate redefines nutrition, agriculture, and taste for the twenty-first century. The Third Plate charts a bright path forward for eaters and chefs alike, daring everyone to imagine a future for our national cuisine that is as sustainable as it is delicious.

The Wall Street Journal
"[F]un to read, a lively mix of food history, environmental philosophy and restaurant lore... an important and exciting addition to the sustainability discussion.”

The Atlantic
“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.”

Baker & Taylor
Offering a revolutionary new way of eating, the award-winning chef, exploring farming practices around the world, reveals that America's cuisine is in desperate need of a radical transformation and charts a new path forward for eaters and chefs alike to make food sustainable and delicious.

& Taylor

"Renowned chef Dan Barber introduces a new kind of cuisine that represents the future of American dining in THE THIRD PLATE. Barber explores the evolution of American food from the "first plate," or industrially-produced, meat-heavy dishes, to the "second plate" of grass-fed meat and organic greens, and says that both of these approaches are ultimately neither sustainable nor healthy. Instead, Barber proposes Americans should move to the "third plate," a cuisine rooted in seasonal productivity, natural livestock rhythms, whole-grains, and small portions of free-range meat. Barber's book charts a bright path for eaters and chefs alike towards a healthy and sustainable future for American cuisine"--
Offering a revolutionary new way of eating, a chef explores farming practices around the world to reveal that America's cuisine is in need of a radical transformation and charts a new path forward to make food sustainable and delicious.

Publisher: New York : The Penguin Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781594204074
Branch Call Number: 641.302 B233t
Characteristics: 486 pages ; 24 cm


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Jul 19, 2018

If you care either about the taste of the food that you eat, or about the sustainability of our ecosystems, Barber's manifesto is for you - he claims that both are completely intertwined.
The great food cultures of our human past grew out of local farming and careful nurturing of ecosystems, because the alternative was starvation; Barber would like to see a return to a more symbiotic relationship to our food sources. This includes more complex soil rotations and mingled plantings instead of Roundup-heavy monocultures, sustainable fish farming with concern for the complete ecosystem (plankton, an appreciation for the taste of less popular fish), a return to the taste of wheat, and something he calls "whole farm cooking."
His text, the pioneer farmers and ranchers and growers he meets, his ideals - all should leave you stimulated both in mind and in taste buds.

AnarchyintheLC Jul 31, 2015

This is a really interesting tour of different types of food production and ways that we can make farming and eating more sustainable. I liked getting a peek at the farms Barber visited. He is a pretty intense foodie, but even if you aren't (you are interested in food but not convinced that you can enjoy your food 40x more than you already do) this is still a good read.

Feb 14, 2015

A researched book on world (but mainly U.S.A.) agricultural production for foodies. Very digressive and overly long.

ksoles Aug 31, 2014

Dan Barber runs two of the most famous restaurants in America today: Blue Hill in NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley. His farm raises much of what appears on both menus but Barber's philosophy extends far beyond the 100 mile diet. He argues that the farm-to-table practice focuses too much on what consumers want, e.g. heirloom tomatoes every summer, rather than on what provides the most balance for the earth. Though this sounds like a drab topic to drag out for 400+ pages, "The Third Plate" takes readers on an engaging, thought-provoking journey as Barber proves he can write almost as well as he can cook.

Early on, Barber presents readers with three plates: the first bears a big, cornfed steak and vegetables, symbolizing the "typical" American diet. A more earth-friendly, healthier grass-fed piece of meat and organic vegetables comprise the second plate. Finally, a carrot steak garnished with sauces from secondary beef cuts make up the third plate which treads most lightly on the earth and reflects portion allocations healthier for all organisms involved.

Barber asserts that, with so much pristine land, American settlers never had to shape a food culture around the health of the environment; instead, they forced the land to conform to their desires. This practice has unleashed disastrous consequences on our land, seas and air and the flavour of agricultural products has suffered equally. Commercial plant breeders' goals include consistency, transportability and shelf life; taste has fallen to the bottom of the priority list.

Some food heroes remain, however. We meet a renegade organic grain farmer who transformed his community, a foie gras "whisperer," a chef who celebrates bycatch and a wheat breeder who marries deliciousness, sustainability and yield all in one. Barber tells their tales with elegance and admiration, always rethinking his own obsession with best practices in the face of new information.

A wonderful and passionate storyteller, Barber discloses everything he things, feels and sees during a food-related experience. The most invested readers will appreciate this thoroughness but others may find it encyclopedic. Regardless, Barber never comes across as jaded nor laconic and offers a refreshing openness about the future of our dinner plates.

ChristchurchLib Aug 06, 2014

In The Third Plate, James Beard Award-winning chef Dan Barber delves into the question of food choices and sustainable agriculture by visiting farmers to learn about their innovative methods. At various establishments, including an organic farm in New York, where Barber learns about soil and a farm in Spain where they produce foie gras without force-feeding the geese. Barber finds out how to broaden and diversify American menus while improving the environment that supports our food chain. This "bold and impassioned" (Kirkus Reviews) report concludes that the American diet needs to shift towards sustainability and variety and that restaurateurs should lead the way.
History and Current Events newsletter August 2014.

Jul 30, 2014

Some good parts, but don't get sucked in by the Al Gore endorsement.

Jun 11, 2014

A less ominous look at food supply and food production than you will find in other similar books. It was very interesting and quite enjoyable to read.

May 28, 2014

Is it possible to order several copies of this book. There was an interview on CBC just this morning and I expect many more people will want to read it and borrow from the library.

Gayle Gavin
V6R 2L6


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