• Chef: Barton Seaver
    Barton Seaver is a chef.

    Photograph by Mark Thiessen

    By National Geographic Education Staff

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Barton is a chef who specializes in sustainable seafood. As Barton told the Washington Post, "There's this scientific approach to sustainability. And then there's a human one. You start talking about fish, and it's automatically some empirical formula which takes a PhD to understand.

    “I'm not trying to save the fish. I'm trying to save dinner."

    EARLY WORK

    Food was where my family became a family,” recalls Barton, who grew up in Washington, D.C. He remembers his family cooking together and exploring the city’s many markets and specialty grocery stores, especially those catering to the Latino community.

    The family sometimes traveled outside the city. “I collected mussels at low tide in Nova Scotia [Canada]. . . . There was a sense that I was where the food came from, and not the other way around.”

    Barton graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He then spent time in Spain and Morocco, where he worked with villagers who approached seafood differently—“They were fishing for dinner, not dollars,” Barton says.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “Showing people that these ideas are not external. . . . Sustainability, geography, and community are a part of their lives.

    “I’m lucky,” Barton says. “I don’t have to sell science. I can sell delicious.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “Travel and being away from my wife.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    Barton defines geography with two questions that he says guide and divide the world: “‘What’s for dinner?’ and ‘Will there be dinner?’”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Barton came to appreciate the concept of sustainability while living in Morocco. There, working with subsistence farmers and fishermen, he made the connection between human consumption, the natural environment, and the economy.

    “We can’t remove the ‘culture’ from ‘agriculture,’” Barton says.

    Although he is one of the most successful proponents of “sustainable seafood,” it’s a term Barton actually dislikes. “It’s more a narrative of restoration,” he says. “We need to re-align the dialogue, from ‘sustainability’ to ‘restoration.’ . . . If we have the power to screw things up, we have the power to restore.”

    Part of this dialogue includes “incentivizing proper behavior” with low prices and tasty seafood cultivated from healthy fish stocks.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CHEF

    “Start to think about food as a vehicle to find your own interests. Don’t be set on a single job at a ‘white-table restaurant.’”

    GET INVOLVED

    Barton encourages families and consumers to make a connection between food they eat and where it comes from. 

    He remembers his father making tacos from scratch, for instance, while he and his brother watched. “Here were these two little towhead boys rapturously wondering about 1,000 years of Latin American history,” he says.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    agriculture Noun

    the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

    Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture
    align Verb

    to put in a straight line.

    appreciate Verb

    to understand and value something.

    chef Noun

    head cook, responsible for menus, food preparation and presentation, and management of staff.

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    community Noun

    group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

    concept Noun

    idea.

    consumption Noun

    process of using goods and services.

    cultivate Verb

    to prepare and nurture the land for crops.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    delicious Adjective

    pleasing to the taste.

    dialogue Noun

    conversation between two people or organizations.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    empirical Adjective

    able to be proved with evidence or experience.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    external Adjective

    outside of something.

    family Noun

    group of organisms that come from the same ancestors and share similar characteristics. Family is also a classification in chemistry and math.

    Encyclopedic Entry: family
    fish stock Noun

    amount of fish available to be harvested in a specific area at a specific time.

    food Noun

    material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

    Encyclopedic Entry: food
    formula Noun

    a general fact or rule expressed in letters and symbols.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    grocery Noun

    food or other goods sold at a general store.

    incentivize Verb

    to provide a person or group of people with reasons (usually economic) for doing something or acting in a certain way.

    Latin America Noun

    South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

    Latino Noun

    having to do with people and culture who trace their ancestry to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations of Latin America.

    low tide Noun

    water level that has dropped as a result of the moon's gravitational pull on the Earth.

    market Noun

    central place for the sale of goods.

    mussel Noun

    aquatic animal with two shells that can open and close for food or defense.

    narrative Noun

    story or telling of events.

    PhD Noun

    (doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

    prestigious Adjective

    having a good reputation.

    proponent Noun

    supporter or advocate of something.

    rapturous Adjective

    joyful and delighted.

    restoration Noun

    repair of damage to an ecosystem so that it can function as a normal self-regulating system.

    seafood Noun

    fish and shellfish consumed by humans.

    specialize Verb

    to study, work, or take an interest in one area of a larger field of ideas.

    subsistence fishing Noun

    harvesting seafood to meet the nutritional needs of an individual or family.

    sustainable Adjective

    able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

    towhead adjective, noun

    very light blond hair.

    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village

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