Chef Dan Barber Calls for Nose-to-Tail Eating of the Whole Farm

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

After spending more than a decade investigating farming communities around the world, Chef Dan Barber has concluded that—for the sake of our food, our health, and the future of the land—American food needs a radical transformation. He calls for cooking with and celebrating the whole farm—an integrated system of vegetable, grain, and livestock production. In his book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, he describes alternative systems of food production and cooking around the country and the world that maximize sustainability, nutrition, and flavor.

Despite the fact that the farm-to-table movement, farmers markets, and interest in sustainable agriculture and small farms has been growing in this country in the past decade, the food system hasn't changed. “The on the ground reality is that big food is getting bigger. Big Agribusiness is blazing on and doing quite well,” Barber said. “For the future we need to think about this a little bit differently.” 

Chefs are influential in creating a food movement, even if they don’t think of themselves as visionaries for social change. “We’re just looking for the best flavored food. Very few of us are environmentalists or social activists or nutritionists or have an interest in politics or any of the above," Barber said. "But by virtue of our work, it turns out that we sort of do. All roads lead to these tributary cultural, social issues that become very important.”

Barber wants us all to eat more barley and buckwheat. Crop rotation is key in creating fertile, nutrient-rich soil, and good soil is key in growing flavorful, nutritious food. He says we should eat the kind of plants and grains (like barley and buckwheat) that farmers who rotate their crops grow.

Barber gets wheat for his restaurants from a farmer in Upstate New York who also grows barley, buckwheat, cowpeas and other unpopular crops that feed the soil—they-re sold cheaply for animal feed because people don’t eat them. However, the recent explosion of microbreweries in Upstate New York has helped create a market for barley. Barber said the microbreweries want local barley for malt, but they couldn’t find it—so they’ve been importing it from Europe. But now many are buying barley from the Barber’s wheat provider and others that are growing barley to build up the soil. “By buying the beer, you’re supporting the wheat,” he said.

Fresh tomatoes are a highlight of summer produce, but, Barber said, “The truth is the tomato’s kind of the Hummer of the vegetable world. From a soil fertility perspective, it is a gas guzzler.” He says we need to find a way to support (eat) the other crops farmers need to plant in order to create those delicious, hugely popular tomatoes. We’ve heard of nose-to-tail eating of the whole animal, the credo of the farm-to-table movement, he said. “What about nose-to-tail cooking of the whole farm?” He added, “What we need is a culture around the right kind of farming, and that means the right kind of eating.”


Dan Barber

Comments [14]


dboy and jgarbuzz, I hope I can deliver my opinion with respect: I'm not sure you're listening to your own comments about elitist food prices... I can't afford those prices either, but that is exactly the problem with the current "Big Agribusiness" system and the further division between the elitist ruling class and those of us with limited access to the healthiest and most naturally best-tasting food. It is an insidious form of oppression of the masses to degrade the food supply and reserve only the most dangerous, chemically treated, and GMO products for the lowly poor. Are people willingly accepting what "Big Agro" is trying to force feed them? There is far more power there than with a scattering of restaurant owners, or even big organic movements. Let's stand up for ourselves and fight for healthy, delicious, AFFORDABLE food! Peace.

May. 25 2014 10:35 PM

Too bad I missed this segment-I would have liked to comment while the guest was speaking - but there are 2 arguments going on here. The first is that soil health is important for plant health and that all human food sources, (whether we eat from only animal sorces or we eat everything), ultimately comes from the soil and plants growing on it. The second is that some restaurants are too expensive for most people. Just because Mr Barber has an expensive restaurant does not make what he says about soil health, wrong.

Any budget conscious person knows he/she can buy a bottle of "good enough for who it's for" wine for less than $10 - so Barber's restaurant will charge you 10-15 times more for whatever they're serving compared to making it for yourself.

That being said, even if you only eat meat and eggs, the nutrition of those foods will be higher from the animals raised on forage from healthy, unpoisoned soil rather than from forage raised on unhealthy, poisonous, over-worked soil. I know this because I am lucky enough to have enough land to grow most of my food and my husband and I live on less than $15,000 per year. And we eat just as well as the customers at Mr Barber's restaurant - meat, fish and eggs included.

I know those in cities cannot do this - but anyone with even a small yard or large balcony can supplement with very healthy vegetables and fruits for very little money.

May. 21 2014 04:39 PM
jgarbuz from Queens


If you had his gift of gab and his charisma you could also open a restaurant and get rich schmucks to pay. It's a scam.It's business, all this blarney about "changing the earth" and "understanding the soil," blah blah, it's all to enchant the wealthy masses. The only differnce between the rich and the poor is the charisma and the heartless and soulless ambition to separate fools from their money. But there are plenty of fools with money in Manhattan who have nothing better to do with it than spend $300 a stupid meal in some restaurant owned by some guy with a good gift of gab. It's the same in many if not most businesses.

May. 21 2014 01:00 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Oh, all baloney. Just give me a diet that guarantees me good health long life until age 120 and then I'll be interested. Okay, gourmet foods may have great tastes. But beyond that, so what? Can they extend life? Do they guarantee good health? It's all BS and advertizing for his restaurant.

May. 21 2014 12:48 PM

…maybe there's a culinary trickle down that the rest of us are suppose to wait for.

May. 21 2014 12:43 PM

A $358 a plate meal is NOT elitist??

May. 21 2014 12:42 PM

"Grazing, Pecking, Rooting" $208

If you want the "wine paring", add an additional $150

May. 21 2014 12:40 PM

...all this is great, but who can afford to eat one of Barber's meals???

Whose s'pose to pay??

May. 21 2014 12:37 PM
Sharon from Colts Neck

The idea of building and maintaining good soil affects other things besides the vegetables we eat. I am old enough to remember the dairy farmer down the road from where I lived. He also rotated the crops he fed to his milk cows. Fields grew corn one year, then alfalfa and timothy the next. Plus the cows grazed outside and the milk reflected the tasted of the spring garlic and other things the cows ate. The milk was delicious!

May. 21 2014 12:28 PM
JF from the utopian future

The way to farm is permaculture everywhere! covering the soil and using compost saves 90% water and fertilizes the soil perfectly. Tilling the soil is killing the biome in the soil. Cover the soil.

May. 21 2014 12:24 PM
laura from queens

I would like to find out if there is an equivalent way of caring for soil through rotation that backyard gardners can also learn about and experiment with. It would be fun and interesting to do this at home and in community gardens

May. 21 2014 12:21 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Way till this guy gets older, past age 50, and gets FAT from all the carbohydrates he's ingesting. Feh! Oats and barley are for horses that pull plows and need a lot of carbs.
Good meat, eggs and fish are the perfect foods for humans. Veggies are for grazing animals like cows.

May. 21 2014 12:17 PM
Bobby G from East Village

Mr. Barber has learned something essential that truth is in the soil. To care for it is a metaphor for caring for self, through what we eat. "Feeding the soil," as Mr. Barber calls it.

May. 21 2014 12:14 PM
George from Bay Ridge

What does Mr. Barber think of the school lunch program?

May. 21 2014 10:04 AM

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