It’s worth listening to Krista Tippett’s interview with Dan Barber for the most recent episode of On Being. Barber is a gourmet chef whose upstate New York restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, highlights the unique flavors of the fresh produce grown on site.
Barber’s perspective on food issues is one that is frequently overlooked. While Michael Pollan most often laments the environmental consequences of factory farming and Mark Bittman emphasizes the health benefits of vegetable consumption, Barber brings a taste-first perspective to the food movement. While he nods to the social and environmental benefits of high-quality produce, Barber cares most about flavor.
As it turns out, socially and environmentally responsible produce tastes better. While many social and environmental movements emphasize charity and self-sacrifice, Barber is intrigued by the possibility of a hedonistic social movement. If you pursue the freshest and most delicious ingredients, you’ll be making yourself happier while improving the environmental and social responsibility of the food system.
I would take it one step further than Barber. Not only is delicious food a proxy for ethically grown food, I would argue that delicious food is an important step in improving our nation’s eating habits. As I’ve argued before, it’s going to be hard to convince Americans to eat more vegetables if their options are mealy, thick-skinned tomatoes and carrots with a 0.0 Brix score. I’m confident that if all carrots were Barber’s carrots, boasting 13% sugar content, eating habits would shift notably. Marketing vegetables as junk food would be even more effective if they could compete with junk food on both the palate and the package. Given the low quality of most American produce, right now the competition is a rigged game, and I’m not surprised that junk food is winning.
Given our Puritanical roots, Americans have difficulties accepting the idea that pleasure and ethics don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This reticence is reflected in the food movement’s concerns about elitism, a charge leveled at Barber in the interview above. Certainly there are aspects of the food movement that have sacrificed the movement’s ethical core at the altar of taste, but the more I learn about the movement, it’s far more common that good food and Good Food are the same thing.