Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish (2)
"Yes," he said. (Laughter) "We lose 20 percent of our fish and fish eggs to birds. Well, last year, this property had 600,000 birds on it, more than 250 different species. It's become, today, the largest and one of the most important private bird sanctuaries in all of Europe." I said, "Miguel, isn't a thriving bird population like the last thing you want on a fish farm?" (Laughter) He shook his head, no.
He said, "We farm extensively, not intensively. This is an ecological network. The flamingos eat the shrimp. The shrimp eat the phytoplankton. So the pinker the belly, the better the system." Okay, so let's review: a farm that doesn't feed its animals, and a farm that measures its success on the health of its predators. A fish farm, but also a bird sanctuary. Oh, and by the way, those flamingos, they shouldn't even be there in the first place. They brood in a town 150 miles away, where the soil conditions are better for building nests. Every morning, they fly 150 miles into the farm. And every evening, they fly 150 miles back. (Laughter) They do that because they're able to follow the broken white line of highway A92. (Laughter) No kidding.
I was imagining a "March of the Penguins" thing, so I looked at Miguel. I said, "Miguel, do they fly 150 miles to the farm, and then do they fly 150 miles back at night? Do they do that for the children?" He looked at me like I had just quoted a Whitney Houston song. (Laughter) He said, "No; they do it because the food's better." (Laughter)
I didn't mention the skin of my beloved fish, which was delicious -- and I don't like fish skin; I don't like it seared, I don't like it crispy. It's that acrid, tar-like flavor. I almost never cook with it. Yet, when I tasted it at that restaurant in southern Spain, it tasted not at all like fish skin. It tasted sweet and clean, like you were taking a bite of the ocean. I mentioned that to Miguel, and he nodded. He said, "The skin acts like a sponge. It's the last defense before anything enters the body. It evolved to soak up impurities." And then he added, "But our water has no impurities." OK. A farm that doesn't feed its fish, a farm that measures its success by the success of its predators. And then I realized when he says, "A farm that has no impurities," he made a big understatement, because the water that flows through that farm comes in from the Guadalquivir River. It's a river that carries with it all the things that rivers tend to carry these days: chemical contaminants, pesticide runoff. And when it works its way through the system and leaves, the water is cleaner than when it entered. The system is so healthy, it purifies the water. So, not just a farm that doesn't feed its animals, not just a farm that measures its success by the health of its predators, but a farm that's literally a water purification plant -- and not just for those fish, but for you and me as well. Because when that water leaves, it dumps out into the Atlantic. A drop in the ocean, I know, but I'll take it, and so should you, because this love story, however romantic, is also instructive. You might say it's a recipe for the future of good food, whether we're talking about bass or beef cattle. What we need now is a radically new conception of agriculture, one in which the food actually tastes good. (Laughter) (Applause) But for a lot people, that's a bit too radical. We're not realists, us foodies; we're lovers. We love farmers' markets, we love small family farms, we talk about local food, we eat organic. And when you suggest these are the things that will ensure the future of good food, someone, somewhere stands up and says, "Hey guy, I love pink flamingos, but how are you going to feed the world?" How are you going to feed the world?
Can I be honest? I don't love that question. No, not because we already produce enough calories to more than feed the world. One billion people will go hungry today. One billion -- that's more than ever before -- because of gross inequalities in distribution, not tonnage. Now, I don't love this question because it's determined the logic of our food system for the last 50 years. Feed grain to herbivores, pesticides to monocultures, chemicals to soil, chicken to fish, and all along agribusiness has simply asked, "If we're feeding more people more cheaply, how terrible could that be?" That's been the motivation, it's been the justification: it's been the business plan of American agriculture. We should call it what it is: a business in liquidation, a business that's quickly eroding ecological capital that makes that very production possible. That's not a business, and it isn't agriculture. Our breadbasket is threatened today, not because of diminishing supply, but because of diminishing resources. Not by the latest combine and tractor invention, but by fertile land; not by pumps, but by fresh water; not by chainsaws, but by forests; and not by fishing boats and nets, but by fish in the sea.
Want to feed the world? Let's start by asking: How are we going to feed ourselves? Or better: How can we create conditions that enable every community to feed itself? (Applause) To do that, don't look at the agribusiness model for the future. It's really old, and it's tired. It's high on capital, chemistry and machines, and it's never produced anything really good to eat. Instead, let's look to the ecological model. That's the one that relies on two billion years of on-the-job experience. Look to Miguel, farmers like Miguel. Farms that aren't worlds unto themselves; farms that restore instead of deplete; farms that farm extensively instead of just intensively; farmers that are not just producers, but experts in relationships. Because they're the ones that are experts in flavor, too. And if I'm going to be really honest, they're a better chef than I'll ever be. You know, I'm okay with that, because if that's the future of good food, it's going to be delicious. Thank you. (Applause)