Book Report: The Third Plate

Reviews of books relevant to the food movement.

the third plate

One sentence summary: Well-known chef, Dan Barber, investigates an updated meaning of sustainability and imagines a new future of food by learning from farmers, experts, and scientists around the world.

Book title: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

Author: Dan Barber
Year of Publication: 2014
Length: 447 pages
Keywords: farm-to-table, chefs, high-end cooking, revolution, sustainable farming

Memorable Quote: “If the future of delicious food is in the hands of farmers who grow nature and abide by its instructions, we ought to become more literate about what that means.”

Did you get a chance to watch the TV show Chef’s Table on Netflix last year? If you did, you probably saw the episode featuring Blue Hill chef, Dan Barber. He talked about his past and his current work and I got the sense from watching that he is an extremely driven human. Someone who won’t rest until his goals are accomplished. This celebrated chef has been cooking up interest for some time now, winning multiple James Beard awards and appearing in Time’s list of most influential people in 2009.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that his book, The Third Plate, is a well-written, interesting, and thought-provoking piece.

Barber divides the book into four sections – soil, land, sea, and seed—and shares his learning process about each of these sections as he journeys from sustainable wannabe to authentic advocate, meeting a range of characters along the way. His thesis is that by learning about complex natural systems that already exist, we can let go of the need to CONTROL nature, and instead work WITH it to create delicious sustenance in a restorative way. He believes that chefs have a large role to play in this process as they are the ones showcasing new flavors and trends for the public.

Personally, I love how authentic Barber is in his book. He does not make himself out to be a hero. He openly admits to his sustainability mistakes (for example, serving Bluefin tuna – an endangered species -  to a group of sustainably-minded food critics) and his aha moments. He shows how he learned from these and then changed his ways.

Barber’s personality shines through his writing, showing him as an overly-driven but endearing individual. And because he’s learning throughout the journey, the reader learns along with him. He’s never condescending and this book is very user-friendly to anyone new to reading about sustainability.

My recommendation: This is a great read for anyone interested in sustainable food! It’s got great stories, great characters, and deliciously-described food. If you’ve never read about our food system before, this is an excellent starting point and I guarantee after reading this book, you’ll want to go deeper. Or at least travel to New York to eat at one of Barber’s restaurants!


Have you read this one? Let me know in the comments below!