Dan Barber on the future of our food (and why you shouldn't feed chicken to fish)

I stumbled across this video today and just had to share it with you. It is, without a doubt, one of the most inspiring presentations on food I've ever seen...

Dan Barber is a U.S chef, and a man after my own heart. A chef who is one of the leading proponents of close-to-the-land cooking in the restaurant industry in America. He is the head chef of New York's famous Blue Hill restaurant, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. He was appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition and is also a member of the Advisory Board to the Harvard Medical School Centre for Health and The Global Environment. So he knows his stuff.

In 2010, Barber gave this talk at the TED conference, where he outlined the workings of a fully self-renewing and sustainable permaculture fish farm in Spain that is showing the world how things can and should be done. He also, and this is my favourite bit, poses a no bull-shit response to the question that infuriates so many sustainable food advocates (when asked by gruff organic-sceptics) - organics is all very well and good, but how are you going to feed the world?

Barber's response? 

We already produce enough calories to more than feed the world, yet 1 billion people will go hungry today because of gross inequalities in distribution. Not tonnage

I love this. Barber cuts to the core of our global food security problems - problems that are only exacerbated, not resolved, by more pumps and more chemicals and more intensive farming. In fact, in Australia alone we throw out more than $5 billion worth of food each year:

In order to ensure fair access to good food for all well into the future, we need to look past our current agribusiness model (in Barber's words it's 'high on capital, chemistry and machinery') and ask ourselves, how do we create conditions that enable every community to feed itself

Small-scale, local food production. Permaculture, biodynamics, organics. That's what's at the heart of Barber's musings. That we must take back our food production and  look at what we can learn from nature. The answers to our problems are right in front of us, at our feet, in the ground we walk on and within the biological systems that surround us. It's a matter of looking, learning, doing.

For this sort of philosophy to become common practice (which is of course the real problem, permaculture has been around for a long time), we need to demand it from the ground up. We can do that by purchasing food that is locally produced, food that is organically and ethically produced. Food that is real.

I'm so inspired by this kind of talk. It shows us, shows the world, what is possible. Large agricultural corporations have long held the dogma that we need more chemicals, more pesticides, more fertiliser, more machinery, to feed the masses. It's time to tell them we don't need, or want, that kind of food system.


  1. Great talk. The only question is how to spread that mode of thinking to other people at the agribusiness owner level....

  2. Yep, that's the million dollar question. I think many things need to come into play in order to overcome that challenge - policy, farmer education, cultural shifts. Will the likes of Monsanto ever be toppled? Probably not. It's probably not a case of toppling them, but of creating a sector environment where they are forced to change. Public demand for clean food is only one factor that needs to come into play for that to happen, but a vital one. It's heartening to see so many organisations, farmers and restaurants doing the right thing these days. And there seems to be more community-initiated clean/local food movements now than ever before. No doubt it'll be a slow process...



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