Yes, Dan Barber is aware that everyone thinks he’s a locavore, veggie-eating evangelist. But in a column in this month’s Wall Street Journal Magazine, Barber firmly planted his flag in the nutrient-dense soil of Conscientious Omnivore territory. “There is no such thing as guilt-free eating,” he declared, rhetorically asking someone to please explain the phenomenon of the “self-righteous vegetarian”.
“I’m not here to say I don’t eat vegetables — I do, a lot of them — but, from a soil perspective, they’re actually more costly than a cow grazing on grass,” he said. “Vegetables deplete soil. They’re extractive. If soil has a bank account, vegetables make the largest withdrawals. So without animal manure, where are you going to get your soil fertility for all those vegetables in an organic system? …Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too.”
In fact, this incredibly thorough column could be the entire manifesto for Barber’s sustainability ethos, one that looks away from trendy vegan diets and simply eating local products, and focuses on a fundamental form of sustainability: “using ecological intelligence, using free energy to produce food—grass converting the sun’s energy by photosynthesis into feed for an herbivore that we in turn eat.” Yep. That’s pretty basic.
But if there’s one thing he doesn’t like, it’s the “preachiness” surrounding the message. “No one wants to be told what to eat, whether it’s by your mother or by a group of holier-than-thou chefs,” he writes. “But true sustainability is about more than just deciding to cook with local ingredients or not allowing your child to have corn syrup. It’s about cuisine that’s evolved out of what the land is telling you it wants to grow.”
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