- “Chef’s Table” star and James Beard award-winning chef Dan Barber thinks mass-produced vegetables have been “dumbed down” to the point where they all look and taste the same.
- Barber said the food system is “rigged” in favour of big seed companies, four of which control more than 60% of the world’s seed sales.
- His company, Row 7, developed a purple pea that keeps its colour after it’s cooked. That means the pea doesn’t lose vital antioxidants before it arrives on your plate.
- In the future, Barber said, other vegetables could retain pigments that change their colour while improving their taste.
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Dan Barber thinks your vegetables are dumb. To be clear, he’s a huge fan of veggies – Barber is a James Beard award-winning chef with two New York restaurants – but he believes most of them could be fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.
In a recent editorial for the New York Times, Barber (who garnered widespread fame on Netflix’s popular series, “Chef’s Table”) outlined his frustrations with big seed companies, four of which control more than 60% of the world’s seed sales.
The result, Barber said, is that most fruits, veggies, and grains sold in grocery stores are “dumbed down,” meaning they look and taste the same. Their seeds are also mass produced to suit all types of soils and climates, which can strip them of vital nutrients and flavour.
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Barber first came to this realisation while sitting on a panel with a Monsanto (now Bayer) executive who Barber said was “boasting” about spending $US1 million a day on corn research.
“That’s more than all organic plant research in the United States in 20 years,” Barber told Business Insider. “What an abomination of wasted resources.”
With a much smaller investment, Barber and his team at Row 7 – the seed company that he founded in 2018 – believe they have developed a way to infuse new life into the Stepford vegetables we’re used to consuming.
One of these methods involves changing the colour.
Earlier this year, Row 7 introduced a purple snow pea that contains anthocyanin, a natural pigment found in blueberries and raspberries. Early research has shown that anthocyanin may help to improve cognitive function and ward off cancer and heart disease. At the very least, the pigment is an antioxidant that protects cells from damage.
“Part of the brilliance of purple anything, whether it’s a plant or a vegetable, is that it’s so nutrient dense,” said Barber. “If you’re going to choose your diet, you should choose darker colours because that is where the vitamins and minerals are.”
While most veggies that have been turned purple using anthocyanin start to bleed after about ten seconds in water, Row 7’s pea keeps its colour even after it’s cooked.
The pea’s nickname – “Beauregarde” after Violet Beauregarde in the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – is also a nod to its flavour. Barber, who describes himself as a “flavour evangelist,” said his staff has been “flipping out” over the pea’s sweetness.
“The first thing people say is, ‘Is this genetically modified?’ Like, no, this is a kind of breeding that our great grandparents were doing,” Barber said.
Barber compared Beauregarde to the Impossible Burger, which showed the world how vegetables (mixed with a few other ingredients) can retain the flavour of meat. He thinks the purple pea could make the case that vegetables can retain pigments that improve their look, taste, and nutritional value.
Beauregarde is also an organic seed that doesn’t rely on pesticides – many of which are produced by the same chemical companies that have taken over the seed market.
“If you’re a company that makes its money selling chemicals, you’re not invested in creating seeds that can be resilient,” said Barber. “That’s a rigged system.”
Though Barber doesn’t consider himself “anti-pesticide,” he does believe in giving plants a chance to fight off disease and pests on their own.
Healthy plants, he said, don’t need interventions. They also taste better.
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