Do you work at a restaurant that touts its commitment to sustainably sourced ingredients? If so, you may wish to put some weight behind that commitment by supporting two chef-driven groups battling to ensure the continued supply of sustainably raised products in the U.S. Their opponents: the oil and gas industry and a powerful mining conglomerate. Win or lose, these efforts demonstrate that people who work in almost any other industry simply don’t have the kind of clout chefs and restaurateurs do now.
We’ll start with anti-fracking organization Chefs For The Marcellus. It’s a 90-person group made up of chefs (Mario Batali, Zak Pelaccio, Chris Santos et al) and associated food world bigwigs. They’re working to prevent natural gas companies from using hydraulic fracturing injection techniques when drilling in the Marcellus Shale rock formation in New York State. The group’s concern is that chemicals used in the fracking process will ruin the area’s water quality and land, harm the farmers and livestock who live on that land and diminish the safety and supply of foodstuffs those lands yield.
Chefs For The Marcellus, part of the New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition, puts on chef-led benefits and helps lobby New York State officials. Their goal is ambitious. Fracking is a proven technique that’s been used to boost production in oil and gas wells around the world for decades. The technique creates plenty of good-paying jobs, generates revenue for several levels of government and contributes mightily to U.S. energy independence. That’s a long list of positives for fracking opponents to go up against, but the visibility and credibility provided by high-profile chefs are a valuable counterweight in the fight.
Here, in part, is a letter Chefs For The Marcellus recently sent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make their case:
“Dear Governor Cuomo:
“We, the undersigned, are members of New York State’s professional food community. We are chefs, restaurant owners, brewers, winemakers, cidermakers, purveyors, processors, retailers, researchers and farmers. We urge you to ban hydrofracking for shale gas in New York State.
“In states where fracking is already taking place, leaks and spills have stunted and killed crops and livestock and sickened humans. Abundant evidence has shown that shale gas extraction is hazardous to air, water and land.
“Contamination occurs from methane and toxic fracking chemicals, as well as from the transportation and disposal of toxic — and at times even radioactive — wastewater. Once it occurs it cannot be mitigated or removed from underground aquifers.
“This is of great concern to our community because agriculture, food and beverage production, restaurants and tourism are vital, growing, interdependent economic engines that rely on our famously pristine water and farmland for their success.”
Chefs in the Pacific Northwest are waging a battle of their own. This summer, more than 50 restaurants, many of them in Portland and Seattle, participated in Savor Bristol Bay. The weeklong event featured meals and menus highlighting fish caught in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. The event was part of a continuing effort by chefs and others to halt construction of the proposed Pebble Mine. Located 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, the mega-sized Pebble Mine sits in a watershed that feeds directly into Bristol Bay. The proposed open-pit gold and copper mine would be two miles wide and generate as much as 10 billion tons of waste rock and associated mining chemicals. It’s controversial even within Alaska.
Just last month, Seattle chefs put on another event, Dine for Bristol Bay week, with part of the proceeds going to efforts to protect the Bristol Bay watershed. Fisheries conservation group Trout Unlimited coordinates these efforts along with Chefs Collaborative. As part of this effort, a group of 200 chefs, including Tom Colicchio and Alice Waters, petitioned Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson to intervene in the mine’s development.
“These risks to Bristol Bay are unacceptable,” they wrote. “If we allow these mining projects to advance, we endanger a delicious and nutrient-rich food that millions of Americans value and demand. Bristol Bay presents an opportunity to permanently protect this wild food source that sustains an irreplaceable ecosystem and an invaluable marketplace.”
The key here: Jackson has the power to do it.
RH readers can decide for themselves which side of these issues to support. But be aware that chefs and restaurateurs are now able to exert significant influence on a range of public policy issues. A decade ago, nobody cared what restaurant people thought about issues like fracking or Alaskan mine development; now the decision-makers look to you for guidance. So give it to them.