By Veronica Del Bianco
In the 1990s, chefs swept swordfish off their menus. Their move was part of the “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign, an effort to alleviate overfishing pressures and give the swordfish population time to repopulate.
That’s the sort of “advocacy” role that some say chefs can and should play again.
“Our coastal areas are degraded, our ocean life is, in many cases, overused, and how we manage our resources going forward is a critical issue,” says Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit corporation that works to advance environmental policy in the United States and across the world.
Beinecke was recently part of a discussion about the sustainability of American food systems at the recent American Culinary Federation’s Southeast conference in New Orleans. She and other members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling spoke directly to chefs at the event.
“You are a very important voice,” Beinecke told the chefs, “because you communicate to the consumer in a way that the environmental community and certainly the federal government doesn’t.”
Beinecke encouraged the chefs to look at the current pressures on the nation’s natural resources when deciding their menus.
“Be able to inform your consumers where your products are coming from, that they are sustainable, that they are locally obtained, that the agricultural processes are fully accredited so that you are providing the best product and educating the consumer at the same time about what the environmental implications are for food systems,” said Beinecke.
The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board is currently helping develop a certification program that would allow chefs to do just that. Chefs can put wild-caught Gulf shrimp and other Gulf seafood on their menu with full confidence, knowing who harvested, unloaded and packaged it — essentially tracing it from sea to plate.
Commission members at the discussion acknowledged that the business of feeding people may contribute to some environmental problems — such as the dead zones in the Gulf that result from agricultural runoff — but is also likely the source of the solution.
Chefs can be part of the solution in a “powerful way,” said Beinecke, just as they were in the ‘90s. With each menu and daily special, chefs can bring the dinner table that much closer to sustainability.