Thomas Keller: “Is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?”

Signed menu from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, dated November 7, 2005. Price for the multi-course prix fixe meal: $175, not including beverages, $25 “supplement” for the optional second course upgrade, tax, or 19% service charge. Photo by Sifu Renka via Flickr.

In an article that seems designed to generate page views and comments from food snobs and conscientious eaters alike, The New York Times recently ran a story by Julia Moskin featuring interviews with elite (and elitist?) chefs Thomas Keller and Andoni Luis Aduriz, who were doing press for the latter’s new book that includes a foreword from the former. In the article, the two say things like the (partial) Keller quote in the headline, suggesting that serving top-notch food is, in the end, the only thing that should matter to chefs. Concerns about agriculture, the environment, farm workers, and the like only serve to limit chefs. As Moskin notes, though, “While their restaurants may be accessible only to the world’s 0.1 percent, chefs at top restaurants influence the entire global food community with the way they think, write, tweet and talk about food — not just the way they cook it.”

For a thoughtful, compelling counterargument to Keller and Aduriz, check out this piece from Paula Crossfield at Civil Eats, where she argues that top chefs can do better than blindly service the select few with access to haute cuisine.

Food preparation can be a creative pursuit, but at the end of the day, chefs are just feeding people. They create an experience of flavor, but the results end up in someone’s stomach. And in requiring an agricultural product for their creations, a chef is reliant on nature’s whims in a way that most artists are not. This is why the locavore movement is not a trend easily dismissed, but part of a greater paradigm shift around how we view and value resources….

As a presentation at Cooking for Solutions by Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Minnesota, demonstrated, chefs ignore the sustainability of their sources at their own peril.

“We’re running out of everything,” said Foley. “Agriculture uses up a planet’s worth of land, a planet’s worth of water and agriculture is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. If you want to solve climate change you absolutely have to address agriculture and its emissions. It’s huge.”

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