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Book review

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

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Book review

Pick up this new book about food philosophy: it picks up where other food manifestos have left off.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
By Dan Barber
Penguin, 2014, 486 pages, $32
ISBN: 978-1-59420-407-4

Reviewed by Hélène Meurer

You can be excused for not having read this book yet. The subtitle “Field Notes on the Future of Food” could sound like a well-worn subject you’ve read about before. But you’d be mistaken.

Dan Barber’s The Third Plate picks up where other modern food manifestos leave off. This is more than a book about food politics, more than a book about modern slow food philosophy or about eating according to health, science, or the environment. It’s more than a book about food policy written by a chef.

What sets this book apart from its predecessors in the “future of food” category is Dan Barber’s talent as a writer. He writes with feeling, humour, humility, and a collection of experiences that belies his years. The Third Plate is perfect fireside reading for cooks, gardeners, farmers, and anyone who enjoys food. At once entertaining, informative, and thoughtful, what may seem like a hefty book will become so light after the first page that you won’t want to put it down.

The title’s “third plate” refers to a new approach to eating. It’s a big step forward, and away from the first plate (meat and potatoes) of recent generations, and the second plate (local, organic meat and veg). Barber puts forth the concept of a revolutionary plateful of ingredients where the viability of a meal’s ingredients relies on the teachings of historical and modern food pioneers.

More than “nose to tail” eating, this might be called “soil to seed” or “whole farm” cooking—where everything in and of the land is used for sustenance. The Third Plate takes into account all the factors that make food perform best, not just economically or environmentally, but also how our food has been fed, grown, and raised to be its optimal self in the long term.

Barber’s insights are fascinating, if not poetic. He is at once a chef, farmer, anthropologist, and business owner who feels as deeply for carrots and grains as for goose liver and tuna. Readers can’t help but share in Barber’s awe and enthusiasm as he visits with remarkable farmers, chefs, and food developers who are brainstorming the future.

Each chapter in The Third Plate balances the concerns facing today’s food landscape with healthy servings of hope and possibility. Dan Barber’s fresh perspectives are a treat. 

The Third Plate

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