A coalition of chefs, restaurants, and members of the food industry was founded in February 2017 with the goal of saving bees. The group, called the Bee Friendly Food Alliance (BFF), is growing under the guidance of the environmental research and advocacy group Environment America.
The BFF network spans the United States and focuses on education and advocacy for bees. In one of their first actions, 235 chefs and restaurants sent a letter to the United States Environmental Protection Agency calling for a ban on bee-killing pesticides.
Food Tank had the opportunity to discuss the importance of bees and the BFF with Christy Leavitt, the Director of Partnerships for Environmental America.
Food Tank (FT): Who is involved in the BFF Alliance and what are its goals?
Christy Leavitt (CL): Environment America’s Bee Friendly Food Alliance is a national network of chefs, restaurant owners, and others in the food industry who are coming together to save the bees. For chefs and restaurant owners, it is up close and personal: no bees means no food.
With so much at stake for our food supply, if bee populations continue to die off, chefs and restaurant owners are speaking out to protect bees. So far, more than 80 food industry leaders, representing restaurants from family run pizza shops to fine dining destinations, have joined the Bee Friendly Food Alliance, and more are getting involved each week.
The goal of the Bee Friendly Food Alliance is to save the bees. Through the Alliance, chefs and restaurateurs help educate their customers, decision makers, and the public about the importance of bees to our food supply, the dramatic die-off bee populations are experiencing, and the need to protect these important pollinators.
FT: What are the key points outlining the problems facing bees?
CL: Millions of bees are dying off across the country with alarming consequences for our environment and our food supply. Beekeepers report they are losing an average of 30 percent of all honeybee colonies each winter—twice the loss considered sustainable.
Scientists point to several causes of the bee die-off, including climate change, habitat loss, parasites, and the increased use of a class of bee-killing pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics. Numerous independent studies confirm neonics are harmful to bees. Neonic use has increased dramatically over the past decade. For example, neonic use on corn has increased from 30 percent to nearly 80 percent since 2000.
When seeds are treated with neonics, the chemicals work their way into the pollen and nectar of the plants, which, of course, is bad news for bees and other pollinators. Neonics are about 6,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT—and you know we banned that pesticide decades ago!
FT: Other than honey, what food products are dependent on bee pollination?
CL: Bees, including honey bees as well as bumblebees and other wild bees, are critical to our food system. Bees pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that provide most of the world’s food.
Bees pollinate a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, from apples and blueberries to avocados and pumpkins. Bees pollinate nuts, including almonds and cashews, many beans, and even coffee and chocolate beans. In addition, bees pollinate the alfalfa eaten by dairy cows, so bees are important to milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream.
FT: Why is it important that chefs and restaurants know about the problems bees are facing?
CL: It is difficult to understate the impact on the restaurant industry if we don’t save the bees. Restaurants depend on a stable and seasonal supply of vegetables, fruits, and other foods pollinated by bees. The continued loss of bees will hit restaurants, chefs, and their customers especially hard. Imagine going to your favorite restaurant and finding no melons, blueberries, or peaches on the summer menu, or apples and pumpkin in the fall.
FT: How are chefs and restaurants educating their customers?
CL: We’re looking for chefs to participate in numerous ways. Several chefs and restaurant owners have joined the Bee Friendly Food Alliance at media events designed to educate folks about the problems facing bees and the foods we will lose if we lose the bees. We’ve held events highlighting our favorite Thanksgiving Dinner items that are pollinated by bees—like cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and apple pie. And last summer the Bee Friendly Food Alliance held events with chefs to show what a picnic would be like without food pollinated by bees. Not a very good picnic without watermelon, lemonade, or cheese.
Chefs and restaurant owners also have made videos to show their support of bees. And we’re working with some chefs now to organize special dinners to draw attention to the importance of bees in pollinating some of our favorite foods. National Pollinator Week, June 19 to 25, will be a big week for us with restaurants holding Bee Friendly Dinners and offering Bee Friendly specials that highlight foods pollinated by bees.
In addition, we have a cute Bee Friendly Food Alliance bee logo that participating restaurants can put in their windows to show their support for bees and help make customers aware of the problem.
FT: What are some of the actions taken by the Alliance and what do you have planned?
CL: The Bee Friendly Food Alliance is keeping chefs and restaurant owners updated on the problems facing bees and mobilizing the food industry to take action to protect bees.
Earlier this year, 235 chefs and restaurateurs sent a letter calling on the US Environmental Protection Agency to ban bee-killing pesticides. We’ll be following that up with outreach to other national and state decision makers.
Last year for National Pollinator Week, we were part of the national Keep the Hives Alive Tour, a coast to coast tour to raise awareness about the bee die-off, which ended in Washington, D.C., with the delivery of 4 million signatures to the US EPA calling for a ban on neonics. This year, we’re focused on getting restaurants to educate and engage their customers at the local level with bee-friendly menu offerings and educational materials.
FT: What can individuals do to help save the bees?
CL: Individuals can do a number of things to help save the bees including:
- Join the effort to call on the US EPA to ban bee-killing pesticides—you can sign a petition here
- Plant bee-friendly plants in their gardens and make sure not to buy plants that are treated with neonics
- Ask the chefs and owners at your favorite restaurants to join the Bee Friendly Food Alliance—they can sign on here
- Encourage your city or town to stop using bee-killing pesticides
FT: Here are what a few members of the BFF have to say about bees and what they are doing to help.
Matt Heimbauer, Executive Chef, Mindful Restaurant Group in Washington, D.C.: “Given the magnitude of the role bees have in our food cycle, it is critical for chefs to educate and advocate for our little friends. A dinner table without the fruits of their labor is incomplete.”
Kevin Hermann, Executive Chef of The Porch at Schenley in Pittsburgh: “The Porch has four active hives on our rooftop to aid in the growth of the bee population. Our menus are created based on locally grown and sustainable produce and products; without bees, many, if not all, of those products wouldn’t be available. Every bee counts when it comes to conquering our ever-growing need to sustain our regional and national produce needs.”
Stephanie Bonin, owner of Duo Restaurant with locations in Denver and Vermont: “I am compelled to spend time using my voice to educate my diners and work to push policy that will protect pollinators, in this case the bees who are truly the creators of these food crops. We can never take good food for granted, nor every bee that helps us create it.”