The Pursuit for Real Food: Moving Toward True Sustainable Agriculture

The real food movement is one for which award-winning chef Dan Barber actively promotes. This movement emphasizes that nutritious food can exist as it did before big agribusiness came along and established itself as what Barber calls “a liquidation business,” one that erodes the very capital that makes production even possible.

Barber stresses nutritious foods offer the most flavors, and this can be best achieved using sustainable and ecologically-wise farming practices. Barber suggests society starts to look at a revolutionary farming method, one in which farmers are experts not only in farming, but in relationships.

Barber suggests this new perspective on agriculture needs to steer away from the focus of feeding more people more cheaply, as this has proven to be an unsustainable and non-nutritious method of producing food. Instead, the focus should be on creating conditions that enable every community a sustainable method of feeding itself.

Food Consciousness

Dan Barber, ChefBarber is on a mission: the pursuit for real food. As executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, Barber is passionate about using ingredients high in both flavor and nutrition, and raising the public’s consciousness on everyday food choices. Serving on the board of directors for Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Barber and the institute work to bridge food education with eating and good farming practices.

Barber, also a published writer on food and agriculture policy, maintains that good taste and good food needs good agriculture. Thriving plants and animals offer more micronutrients and enzymes, resulting in a more delicious flavor. To achieve this, crops themselves must be dense with nutrients, something that goes unachieved using today’s profit-driven agribusiness model.

The food Barber uses in his restaurants comes from either his own Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts, or is purchased locally from sustainable farms that remineralize their soil, feed animals with carefully grown grasses, and use quality compost on the crops.

An Ecological Approach to Cuisine

One of Time magazine’s 2009 Time 100, Barber was featured at TED2010 where he gave a presentation on his idea for a revolutionary farming method (see below). His talk focused on farm-raised fish, as for chefs a big problem is how to keep up with the demand for fish on menus when the problem with supply comes from “fishing the seas like we clear-cut forests.” Noting that 90% of the most preferred fish for our menus have almost collapsed, aqua-culture fish farming has become essential.

Veta La Palma FishBarber introduces to the audience Veta La Palma, a revolutionary fish farm in Spain that is located on the former grounds of a failed cattle farm. When Veta La Palma took over the land in 1982, it was an ecological disaster. But the company focused its energies and environmental conscious on restoring the property to a natural state, resulting in a 27,000 acre fish farm thriving on a parcel of land once completely ecologically destroyed.

The key? Relationships. Every relationship that exists in Veta La Palma’s ecological network is natural. The entire system is so healthy it is totally and completely self-renewing.

And Barber tells the audience that the fish he ate from that farm was the tastiest fish he’d ever had.

Natural Bread Basket

Barber stresses the current agribusiness model will not sustain agriculture in the future. It’s not more capital, or better chemical applications, or more technologically advanced machinery that will improve the quality of our food and ecological impact. It’s the ecological agriculture model that will: farms that restore, not deplete, the environment.

Watch Chef Dan’s Ted Talk