As the groundswell of support among the general public continues to grow for Proposition 37, the effort to require labeling of genetically modified foods in California, a group of food experts has joined the ranks of backers: Chefs.
More than 700 chefs and professional foodies, "from prominent names like David Bouley to up-and-comers like the chef Bryant Terry of Oakland," have lent their voice to supporters of the measure, saying - as all of us who support the effort have said - it is time the public learned all there is to know regarding GM foods.
To the chefs and foodies, it's not just the right thing to do, it's about protecting the integrity of the foods they prepare and we eat.
"We're talking about the provenance of food, and there's nothing more important to chefs like me," Alice Waters, the founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and legendary proponent of locally grown foods, told The New York Times. "We need to know where our food comes from and how it's produced, who produces it. That's the bedrock of what we do."
Enlisting chefs to support Prop 37
Waters said from the outset she believed she needed to do nothing more than simply vote "yes" for Prop 37 when she heads to her polling place Nov. 6. But after a visit from Carlo Petrini, founder of the slow food movement, she was convinced she needed to do more to ensure its passage.
"He had come to talk about Slow Food and the change in leadership, but the first thing he started talking about was Prop 37," Waters told the paper, in reference to the nonprofit Petrini founded in 1989 to nurture the movement. "He talked about Europe looking to the vote in California and how we needed to take this on, and I decided then that I needed to do whatever I could. I needed to get active."
So, following Petrini's visit, Waters said she sent out an e-mail late in evening on Oct. 19, a Friday, asking fellow chefs she knew all around the country to give their support to the Prop 37 campaign as well. By the following Monday, she had enlisted 100 chefs, with 200 more quickly signing on once the word got out about what she was doing via Twitter and other social media networks.
Bouley became the 516th chef to sign onto the cause, said the Times.
"Whether it's calorie labeling in chain restaurants or chefs putting on their menus what farm they bought the lamb from, people want to know more about their food and where it comes from," Peter Hoffman, chef and founder of the now-closed Savoy, a farm-to-table pioneer in SoHo, and the Back 40 restaurants, told the paper. "So this isn't about whether GMO is right or wrong, it's about transparency. And when someone opposes transparency, what does it tell you?"
Hoffman also noted that avoiding GM foods is getting more difficult. For example, he said he recently discovered that most white vinegar sold in supermarkets comes from corn and is most likely genetically modified (since most corn is).
'We don't support that'
Dan Barber, executive chef and owner of the Blue Hill restaurants, said he dabbles in a little genetic engineering with his partners at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit farm and education center at Pocantico Hills, N.Y. that supplies some of the ingredients he uses in dishes at his restaurants.
Some of the foods are currently being featured on his restaurant menus, like a new proprietary variety of squash that was grown at his farm center by cross-breeding conventional squashes.
"That sometimes results in some outrage from customers initially until we explain what we're doing," Barber told the Times.
But there's a difference, he says, between what he and his partners are doing and what the gigantic agribusiness companies - most of which have poured tens of millions of dollars into ensuring Prop 37's defeat - are doing.
"They are inserting genes at will, sometimes from completely different species, and creating things in a lab that would never occur in nature," said Barber, adding: "We don't support that."