Executive chef Dan Barber is proud to serve local and sustainable farm-grown foods at his top-rated restaurants Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
One thing the 43-year-old James Beard Award winner can't stand is what he calls "self-righteous vegetarians" who think they're better than omnivores simply because they don't eat animal protein.
Barber, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, says many vegetarians are deluding themselves when they think they're being friendlier to the environment by not eating meat.
"I'd like some to explain the phenomenon of the self-righteous vegetarian to me," Barber wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog post.
"I'm not here to say I don't eat vegetables—I do, a lot of them—but, from a soil perspective, they're actually more costly than a cow grazing on grass. Vegetables deplete soil. They're extractive. If soil has a bank account, vegetables make the largest withdrawals. So without animal manure, where are you going to get your soil fertility for all those vegetables in an organic system? You are, by some measures, forcing crops into a kind of imbalance."
Barber, an alum of the French Culinary Institute, says vegetarians should get off their high horse because there's no such as "guilt-free" eating.
"Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too," he writes. "You don't have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.
"What's the definition of a healthy diet, the kind you can actually feel a little smug about? There isn't one answer, of course, because it depends on where you live and what time of year it is."
Barber insists he has nothing against vegetarians, pointing out his wife is mostly vegetarian, but he wants non-meat eaters to realize they too have blood on their hands when it comes to the food they consume.
"There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals — there just isn’t," he said. "Because the manure from the animals is a free ecological resource that amends the soil that gives you better-tasting and healthful vegetables. That’s been around since the beginning of time.
"So to say that vegetarians live on this higher plane of ethics (and I’m not here to argue that slaughtering animals doesn’t carry with it some weight), but you have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian as well."