Great Barrington — Who would have thought, not too many years ago, that in the land of plenty we would be having serious discussions about the future of food – as if its supply and integrity were at risk?
But with global warming threatening agricultural production, the issue of whether we can provide enough healthy nutrition for the burgeoning human population – without destroying the planet upon which we live – is a matter of consequence.
To address this crisis Berkshire Grown, the nonprofit devoted to promoting locally grown food, is hosting a public discussion at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center with two renowned celebrated experts on the relationship between food and climate: Dan Barber and Elizabeth Kolbert. The talk will take place on Monday, August 18, at 7 p.m.
Noted journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, a Williamstown resident and staff writer for the New Yorker, is the author of the recently published and highly regarded The Sixth Extinction (See the Berkshire Edge review.). She is the Williams College Class of 1946 Fellow in Residence at the Center for Environmental Studies.
Kolbert’s book is not for the congenitally optimistic. Her incisive discussions of climate change, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the rate of warming that’s ten times faster than in previous interglacial periods, explosive human growth, and the rapid acidification of the oceans all point to a catastrophic future. Given her own research and her straightforward manner, Kolbert is brilliantly positioned to open this exciting evening of ideas.
Daniel Barber is chef and co-owner of the restaurants Blue Hill in New York City, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
His family also has owned a farm in Monterey for decades. Barber spent his youthful summers sitting on tractors as farmers plowed his grandmother’s fields on Blue Hill in Monterey, where he and his extended family still spend considerable time.
Sean Stanton, a Great Barrington Selectboard member and farmer, is another significant Berkshire connection for Barber. Stanton farms the Blue Hill farm and provides Barbers’ two restaurants with his pasture-raised meat.
Barber has been making a number of public appearances because of his new book, The Third Plate, published earlier this year. The book is clear evidence that Barber is more than just an accomplished chef. He is not only intensely smart, but relentless in his quest for more and more (and more) information on food — its molecular construction, the soil that feeds it, the farmers who nourish it, what it means for the earth to feed the billions who now inhabit it, and other fundamental issues.
The Third Plate is not a typical jeremiad against American agribusiness but a wholesale indictment of what we think about when we consider a satisfying meal. Conscientious eaters in the 21st century pride themselves on supporting local farmers and eating food produced close to home, preferably raised organically.
“Not enough,” says Barber. “Our job isn’t just to support the farmer; it’s really to support the land that supports the farmer.”
The Berkshires are beautiful and many of us are more than merely appreciative of what our local farmers can provide. So it’s sobering to consider Barber’s message that contemporary agriculture is simply not sustainable.
If eating is important to you, please mark your calendar for Monday, August 18 at 7 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Theatre for the double bill of Dan Barber and Elizabeth Kolbert.
Tickets are $25 for orchestra ($20 for Berkshire Grown members), $15 for mezzanine. Tickets available at the Mahaiwe box office, Mahaiwe.org, or through The Berkshire Edge calendar. For more information, visit Berkshire Grown.