Dan Barber, Great flavour, health benefits and healthy ecosystems can only come from healthy soils not a lab

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Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, both in NY and Stone Barn, and co-founder of Row 7 Seed Company, joins us to talk about the role of seeds and chefs in regeneration, and where to invest in order to win while helping the environment.

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What’s the role of chefs in a regenerative transition? Why did chef Dan Barber start a seed company and why does he feel optimistic about the future of the food system? What is the role of the younger generation in the transition? 

The Wonders of Hyperlocals

As a chef from a high-end restaurant (Blue Hill), Dan firmly believes that food can only be truly flavorful if it’s produced from a healthy soil. Healthy soil is only achieved through regenerative practices. This is why today, the best restaurants serve food with rare and hyperlocal ingredients, as cooking is supposed to celebrate what the environment provides. Therefore, although the process of spreading this culture in the culinary industry may be slow, chefs should continue to fullfill their role—to continuously stick to producing flavours that are local, original and organic.

“I think it’s the role of all chefs to support what is truly regenerative.” – Dan Barber

Why Biology, Not Technology

The biological components of plants alone are extraordinary, and this is not something that we should ignore. A breed of corn in Mexico can grow organically without chemicals and can fix nitrogen on its own. This is revolutionary as in America alone, 70% of the fertilisers used to grow corn and soybeans produces nitrogen, which is a great contributor in polluting waterways all the way down the Gulf of Mexico and causes many other environmental damages. There are many biological breakthroughs like this that people don’t know about. It is crucial to give equal, if not greater, importance to studying the biological component of plants and keeping the soil healthy, among other things. 

“We spend our money going up to space, but we don’t spend our money going down (into soil).”  – Dan Barber

Looking Into Health Benefits

Fats that are produced by animals (i.e. butter) are way better than those produced by technology (i.e. margarine). As Joan Dye Gussow, a nutritionist scholar, stated “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” Similarly, crops that are grown organically provide extraordinary flavour and immeasurable health benefits that manifest even in the physical appearance of the produce. For Dan, who happens to be a seed company owner – the 7 Row Seed Company– as well, everything starts with seeds. The moment we recognise that breeding seeds is for the pleasure of flavour rather than for chemical intervention, we can truly move forward. 

“When you select seeds for flavor, you are automatically selecting seeds that give you great health potential and nutrient density that are most often beneficial.”  – Dan Barber

Changing of Consumer Habits

There are people who are already moving towards the same direction in terms of transition to regeneration. Clearly, people, especially the younger generation, are already seeking transparency about the source of the food they put on their plates and pretty soon, on their children’s plates. Movement starts with people’s awareness and consciousness of what they eat, and it’s already starting. What we just need to focus on now is to support companies that are in for regeneration, so we can help them change their practices and get there more quickly.

“If we’re going to be in business in 10 years, we need to really change course. The system is not built to change course quickly. It’s going to be very challenging.”  – Dan Barber

Other Points Discussed:

  • how as a chef, Dan wants to localise everything to extract the best flavours;
  • how regeneration should be about making something better, as in minimised pesticides, less nitrogen fertiliser, and reduced water use; and
  • how investors should opt for grass-fed beef because of its extraordinary environmental impact.

To know more about Dan Barber, Blue Hill and 7 Row Seeds, download and listen to this episode. 

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Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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