Coming from ecology and cultural anthropology, it is pretty clear that we have been getting things backwards.
Evolution means adapting to an environment, and even as many living beings also change their environments to suit themselves better, this has to work with the possibilities the environment has and offers if it is to work for long.
Swidden (slash-and-burn) agriculture done on small parts of a large rainforest can probably go on and even contribute to greater biodiversity thanks to edge effects. (It creates an edge between forest and clearings and therefore a more diverse landscape.)
Many a traditional agricultural landscape – from the Spanish dehesa to the Japanese satoyama – is like that.
Now, however, we are not working with the environment, we are breaking it.
We do not create more of what we can get from it, we force it to give us what we want.
Dan Barber’s The Third Plate doesn’t just come from this kind of understanding, strong as that thread runs through it, it also and constantly brings in another point that stood at the beginning of the journey of ‘ecohappy’: The pleasure we have been losing by acting this way.
What he writes about is not just, and not even mainly, a food system that is broken and that breaks the world (in all its success – so far – in producing calories and apparent yields). Rather, it revolves all around flavor.
The flavor of good food that has been grown and raised well, to give the best of its potential, be that carrots or goose liver or fish or grains.
Yes, one can criticize that there is some flying back-and-forth across the globe involved in the journey he takes us on. There may be something like naiveté regarding the challenge of simply feeding the world and even a bit of the much-decried foodie elitism in his outlook.
But, how poor in thinking and taste have we become to think that an industrial approach can work and provide good results in the biological/ecological systems that are our environments, our landscapes and agriculture, and our bodies? When we only focus on calories, on quantity, how will we ever learn to live better?
No, dreamy though it may seem to those who think that being rational and negative alone is smart, The Third Plate is full of passion and pleasure, and it is time we discovered and developed the same again.
It only is how we, humans, have spread around the world and created civilization, by using our respective environments to the best of their and our potential, creating nutritional and cultural diversity, the cuisines and varieties and breeds and agricultural systems that we live(d) by and that have been giving us such a pleasurable and flavorful – and necessary – diversity.
Now, I highly recommend you read it for yourself. And help us diversify and fit in, as is good for our long-term survival and short-term health and pleasure.
You can buy the book e.g. on Amazon, but for one lucky reader, I also have one copy, kindly provided by Stone Barns, to give away. Comment below for your chance to win.