The final Montgomery Fellow of the winter term, chef and noted food activist Dan Barber, recently sat down with Dartmouth graduate students to discuss the local food movement.
Dan Barber did not invent the concept of the “food to table movement,” but he has certainly contributed to its popularity. As the main chef and proprietor of two highly regarded restaurants in New York, Barber has become the poster boy of sustainable eating. Located on an estate in Westchester County, Stone Barns Farms supplies much of the food for both his restaurant at the farm, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and his Manhattan mainstay, Blue Hill.
An intense advocate of understanding where our food comes from, Barber is a unique chef in that much of his culinary interests lie outside of the kitchen. In addition to his work at both restaurants, Barber has become a leading figure within the sustainability movement, speaking at the TED2010 Conference and serving on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. As Barber is currently working with university researchers to determine how production methods affect the nutritional content of his food, much of the lunch’s discussion focused on scientific concepts.
“I wish that I had taken more biology and chemistry,” notes Barber.
The seasonal challenges that define growing regions greatly impact Barber’s menu selections at his New York restaurants. When asked about the difficulties that a harsh New England winter poses to eating locally, Barber stresses that even small adjustments make a big impact. For example, choosing to eat “in-season” crops such as hearty root vegetables is not only a responsible choice, but a healthy one.
“I don’t want the prevailing mentality to be that of just surviving winter, but instead looking at it as an opportunity to thrive,” explains Barber.
Though some balk at the expense of eating locally and organically, labeling the ‘slow food movement’ as an elitist fad, Barber maintains that this is not the case. Large grocery chains generally cost less than farmers markets, but according to Barber they do not accurately account for the ‘real costs’ of producing cheap food.
While ‘slow food’ still exists largely as a grassroots movement outside of the mainstream, Barber feels that it is rapidly growing in popularity.
“Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been sitting here talking about these issues,” says Barber. “So many movements are about depriving yourself of something. This isn’t. It’s about indulgence and delicious food.”
By Erin O’Flaherty