How Sweet It Is

December 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

Northeast winter carrots are sweeter than carrots just about anywhere else, even the high-quality, organic ones at Whole Foods.  That’s one of the many notable takeaways in a recent interview Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s “On Being” program, had with chef Dan Barber, co-owner of the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

According to a reading on a refractometer — a device that measures sugar levels in fruits and vegetables — the sugar content of carrots harvested mid-February at the restaurant’s farm was off the charts, said Barber.  The carrots were 13.8 percent sugar, sweeter even than the sweetest carrots.  The ones from Whole Foods, in contrast, had no sugar at all, registering 0 on the tell-tale refractometer.

The carrots grown locally in the dead of winter “far, far exceed in sugar and flavor those grown in a monoculture in warmer climates,” said Barber, referring to carrots from places like Florida, California, Texas, Arizona and Mexico.

While Barber is wistful about what the Northeast could be growing in the winter – things like kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts that thrive, he said, “in the intensity of the cold” — he’s not a locavore extremist.  He has a weakness for oranges, a fruit that does not grow in New York, and acknowledges the wonders of modern-day distribution systems that bring consumers oranges and other produce from distant places.

More lighthearted than earnest, the discussion touches on the conflicts and dilemmas inherent in the local food movement, one that Barber describes as the “most exciting social movement in America today.”  When pressed, Barber offers a humorous, unconventional take on the notion of ethical eating.  Eating ethically isn’t some high-minded intellectual exercise, Barber insists.  It boils down to pleasure, pure and simple.

“Doing the right thing,” he said, “is the pleasurable thing,” going on to explain that “if you’re greedy for the best food, then you by definition are being greedy for the kind of world you want used in the right way.”

It’s funny and deep at the same time.  To listen to the near hour-long conversation, clear here.

Entry filed under: Food Dilemmas, Local Food Production. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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