It’s been a dream of mine, well I mean something that I needed to check off the list, ever since I read Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate. I didn’t agree with everything he had to say, but I thought it was a start. I mean, what we’re eating, how we’re eating, and how fast we’re eating it is not sustainable. And if you think it is, take a look at the big picture.
American’s eat, on average, 210.8 pounds of meat including red meat, chicken,and turkey per year, per person. It may be lower than the all time high (ever recorded) of 220.2 pounds in 2004, but seriously, that’s still a lot. Do you know how many animals it takes to make that many pounds? Well according to Slaughterhouse, there’s about 500 pounds of meat per cow and about 40-45% of each slaughtered animal is used for meat. Which means, a single cow can be used to make over 2,000 quarter pounders and a typical American eats about 280 of those per year. (I know you’re most likely not eating quarter pounders, but give me a break on the math).
The point? All these animals that are being used for slaughter are not only living in horrible conditions (I won’t touch on that here, but you can look it up yourself), but they’re also responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from ALL transportation. Basically, all those lovely farts from those cute animals, are causing major problems for the environment, not just our health. There are some other great facts here if you’re looking for more information.
Ok, so what about organic? What if I’m a vegetarian? Vegan? Isn’t that helping the planet just a little bit more? Isn’t organic farming what nature intended? Yes and no. We all know that our ancestors were hunter and gatherers, searching for berries, wild vegetables, and then hunting the latest game, every single day. It wasn’t until 10,000 – 13,000 years ago that the domestication of animals first began. Yes, a long time ago. Then soon, villages began cultivating grains, figs in the Jordan Valley, and squash in Mexico. Keep going and soon the potato in South American began being harvested along with tobacco. Natural fertilizers were used and farmers really had to work with the environment. Droughts, torrential rain, and more.
Then came The Green Revolution, which increased agriculture production around the world, modernizing techniques and expanding the distribution of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The good part? Many lives were saved from starvation as yields increased dramatically. The bad part? It was also the start of rice, corn, and wheat providing 60% of the human food supply and monoculture.
So the question is this – we have a situation where people don’t know what to eat that will help save the world while keeping them healthy. Organic is a great option. Backyard growing even better. Buying in season produce from local farmers – right on. However, not everyone can do that and with issues like the California drought, what do people do when watering their backyard vegetables is in conflict with a ever decreasing water supply? And that’s just in America. The population of the Earth continues to rise and feeding everyone without using excess fuel, emitting large amounts of greenhouse gasses and promoting monoculture – can it work? I don’t know.
Back to Stone Barns. Barber has made a name for himself as a chef that not only cooks with the seasons, but cooks with ingredients that are in season, locally to his restaurant, while also using techniques that promote using every piece of the land, preserving the land, feeding the land, and leaving it better off then when he stepped on it.
This beautiful and peaceful setting includes pasture raised pigs, geese, sheep, and chickens; a half-acre green house; bee hives; and a hilly vegetable plot. Take a walk by yourself and hop on any one of the tours. If you’ve got (a lot of) cash in your wallet, you can book a reservation at the famous Blue Hill at Stone Barns where Chef Barber creates dinners that are especially tailored the the diner and the season. (One day.)
As we enjoyed the tour, our knowledgeable guide continued to share Stone Barns philosophy that the system must always give back. That struck me. We take. We take the carrots from the ground, we take the eggs from the chickens that stomp and poop on the ground, and we take the water from the rivers, lakes, and streams. But, what do we actually give back?
I think that’s the answer to our problems in more ways than one.
What do we give back?
When we chop a tree down, do we plant another one in its place? When we dig up the soil to plant and harvest vegetables to nourish ourselves and our families, do we in turn take the time to put nourishment back into the soil? If we just took the time to give back, maybe we’d have a bigger appreciation for what we’re taking and we would only take what we needed to stay healthy and vibrant.
So when you’re confused about what to eat for dinner, what to feed your family, how those who are not as fortunate as you are are surviving, and how the planet will support the increasing population of people – figure out how you can give back to Mother Earth. It may not be The Third Plate, but it’s a philosophy that’s all encompassing.