NY Chef Urges Congress to "Stop the Blandness!"

If you want a comprehensive take on national farm policy, ask a chef -- right? While the logic of that statement may escape some, Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of New York's Blue Hill at Stone Barns and the creative director of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, argues that chefs should be among the most concerned about upcoming debates over the farm bill for one simple reason: "...the food that we grow on 200 million acres of harvested cropland is inedible."

Stand in the middle of our farm belt and you’ll see cornfields extending to the horizon, but the harvest won’t be dinner, not until it’s milled and processed into flours or starches, or used to fatten our animals on feedlots. Just four crops — corn, rice, soybeans and wheat — account for the vast majority of our harvested acreage. Not surprising, given that these same crops account for 70 percent of the total subsidies allotted to farmers.

No one wants farmers to suffer, especially chefs. But if we’re spending $20 billion or so a year on farm subsidies, we ought to invest in the foods we eat. And I mean eat, not process into something that resembles food. That means fewer subsidies for grains like corn and soy, and more help for growers of broccoli and tomatoes.

Barber's answer to the overwhelming blandness he sees in the US' agricultural products is respect for biodiversity: not just on individual organic farms, but nationally through the creation of laws and subsidies that encourage farmers to grow a diverse array of crops aimed at a market much closer to home. Barber even notes that insurance companies have good reason to side with this approach, as biodiversity provides protection against diseases and insect infestations that can easily destroy a monocultural crop. Barber also details how livestock breeders, ranchers and dairy farmers can also produce superior products by forgoing industrial-style animal agriculture for more natural methods of raising cattle, poultry and sheep.

In a nutshell, Chef Barber argues that lawmakers should step aside from the wheeling and dealing that accompanies such overarching legislation, and think about the food they'd like to eat themselves. Once that change in mindset occurs, "Great farming, environmental stewardship and nutritious food will not be far behind." ::The New York Times via Getcha Grub On

Tags: Agriculture | Congress