This book came across my radar as it was the January pick for the Slow Food Chicago Book Club. I’ll let the Slow Food International website speak for itself: “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.” In sum, Slow Food is the opposite of fast food: food that is good, clean, and fair. There are chapters all over the globe, each with their own aim and programming and my new (to me) chapter has a book club that meets every other month. We read the book and met at a local cafe/grocery store and had great conversation.
Barber’s book is DENSE which can made it a little hard to know where to begin for discussion and we didn’t make any grand conclusions, but were able to talk at length about the slow food movement using “The Third Plate” and Barber’s journey through introspection and learning.
Non-fiction is not my cup of tea and is always a bit of a slog for me, but Barber had good structure and compelling storytelling, though he was a little self-aggrandizing at times. This short excerpt from the introduction sort of sums up what he set out to examine.
“And yet, for all the movement’s successes, and the accompanying shift in popular consciousness, the gains haven’t changed, in any fundamental way, the political and economic forces shaping how most of the food in this country is grown and raised. Not, for that matter, have they changed the culture of American cooking. Americans have more opportunities to opt out of the conventional food chain than ever before (farmers’ markets are ubiquitous; organic food is widely available) and more information about how to do it (innumerable cooking shows and easy access to a world of online recipes), but the food culture – the way we eat, which is different than what we eat – has remained largely unaffected. How do we eat? Mostly with a heavy hand.”
I take issue with some of his points: the fact he refers to farmer’s markets as “ubiquitous” and organic food as “widely available” shows the rose-colored high profile chef glasses he is looking through, but his question, of why American cooking hasn’t changed, or if it should and how, is an important one.
Much like our book club he wasn’t able to draw any grand conclusion, but he succeeds at providing stories of his travels and of people who are spending their lives trying in their own small, and sometimes big ways, to answer the same questions. I particularly found the chapters on the fishing industry to be fascinating. A certain fish becomes trendy, than we over fish those fish. Then others come along and try to elevate lesser fish, but then of course THOSE become trendy, and the cycle continues.
If you are passionate or curious about the slow food movement, and farming and agriculture across the world, then this is a great find.