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The Third Plate

Field Notes on the Future of Food

By Dan Barber
  • Read in 18 minutes
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Third Plate by Dan Barber

The Third Plate (2014) is about food: the way we cook it, eat it, produce it and the ways in which all these things are intertwined. Barber examines the dangers of monocultures and presents a powerful argument for sustainable food. He not only explains how we can go about making food more sustainable, but how we can make it even more delicious, too.

Key idea 1 of 11

Our eating habits need a makeover to ensure sustainability: chefs can help.

What springs to mind when you think of a quality restaurant meal? Perhaps a large cut of meat or fish and some vegetables on the side drizzled with a special sauce? Sounds delicious, but what does a meal like this mean for the environment?

Most of us in the Western world are lucky enough to be able to eat just about any kind of food we want. However, most of us also fail to realize that it’s environmentally unsustainable. With increasing populations and changing food habits, our ecology is being threatened. And while population control is extremely difficult to put into action, we can change the way we eat. And chefs can help us do it.

Chefs create food trends and influence how and what we eat at home. For example, many restaurants focus on meat and fish, products that require a wealth of natural resources to produce. Vegetables, meanwhile, only play a supporting role.

Restaurants also often center on eating high on the animal. In other words, eating the cuts of meat that are literally high on the animal’s body, like beef or fish filets. These cuts have become popular for their tenderness and because they look great on a plate.

The problem is, each animal can only provide few such cuts. As a result, we use less of the animal’s meat than ever before. To make matters worse, as the meat market grows, so does the need to feed these animals. For example, one pound of beef requires a whopping 13 pounds of grain feed to produce. This puts a massive strain on our environment.

So we’re faced with the need to find a sustainable cuisine. This cuisine, let’s call it the third plate, needs to use more food varieties in order for it to be sustainable.

Having the world turn vegetarian isn’t the answer, as our ecological system is based on animals and plants existing alongside one another. Rather, we need to understand the complexity of our ecosystems and the diversity required to sustain them.

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