Chef: Barton Seaver

Chef: Barton Seaver

Profile of Barton Seaver, chef and National Geographic Fellow.

Grades

5 - 12+

Subjects

Economics, Experiential Learning, Health, Social Studies

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.

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Producer
National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

May 13, 2022

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