Growing Flavor

Dan Barber, the chef-owner of NYC restaurant Blue Hill and the creative director of the Rockefeller-funded Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, contributed a passionate op-ed plea in last Sunday’s New York Times.

Titled “Amber Fields of Bland,” Barber’s piece addresses the many issues looming in this year’s Farm Bill, a massive chunk of agricultural policy making and funding that’s voted on by Congress every five years. The Farm Bill has a huge impact on the rules and regulations running every agricultural enterprise in this country, and thus on the food we find in our supermarkets and on our plates.

Echoing the sentiments of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, Barber writes,

Stand in the middle of our farm belt and you’ll see cornfields extending to the horizon, but the harvest won’t be dinner, not until it’s milled and processed into flours or starches, or used to fatten our animals on feedlots. Just four crops—corn, rice, soybeans and wheat—account for the vast majority of our harvested acreage.”

Biodiversity over monoculture, pasturage instead of factory farming, rewards for farmers who boost their farm’s productivity by increasing the health of the soil: These and the other suggestions echoed here are smart and ecologically sound—and therefore facing a uphill battle against the big-agribusiness lobbies in Washington.

But it’s not just about being nice to Mother Nature. That fat, fresh-from-the-muck local carrot will taste better, too. As Barber, a chef specializing in ingredients from the nearby Hudson Valley, writes, “A tomato bursting with flavor, or an impossibly juicy leg of lamb, is no accident. If we’re able to eventually clone that, great, but let’s do it in the name of flavor, not corporate greed.”

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