Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web.

Ann Cooper, Berkeley’s crusading lunch lady, is not the only chef intervening in the national debate around food and agriculture.

New York chef Dan Barber has for years been penning thoughtful op-eds on food politics for the New York Times editorial page.

In his latest, he lays out a sophisticated critique of U.S. farm policy and proposes a progressive agenda for the 2007 Farm Bill.

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I applaud Barber for two main reasons.

First, it seems to me that here in the U.S., a kind of rough division of intellectual labor holds sway. Chefs generally keep their noses to their saute pans, venturing out of the kitchen only to pen lavish cookbooks, sell their names to big-money Vegas restaurants, or appear on vapid cooking shows (I’m thinking mostly of the ignominious Emeril here, not the excellent Mario Batali, who recently found himself banished by the Food Network for being too rigorous a cook).

The point is that when chefs enter the public sphere, it’s usually to talk specifically about cooking; policy debates belong to policy wonks. Barber rejects that division. He traces food to its origins, the soil, and offers cogent commentary on it.

Second, he raises a critical point that’s often ignored: The food produced by our present production system sucks, and that matters. Beyond the health implications of industrial food, ably teased out by above-mentioned Chef Ann, quality and flavor must become issues in their own right.

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Food forms an important part of a nation’s material culture. It’s not just the environment and our bodies that are brutalized by our pre-fab food habit; it’s also our palates.

I hope more chefs follow down the path blazed by Cooper, Barber, and their great precursor, Alice Waters.

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