New York, NY – We don’t see many bees flying around New York at the end of November, but we do see the fruits of their labor. Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, green beans and more of the foods that make Thanksgiving dinner so special are possible through the work of bees. But bees are at risk. So this holiday season, chefs, restaurant owners and environmental advocates are speaking out to protect bees and help stop them from dying off at alarming rates.
“We’re thankful for bees this Thanksgiving,” said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York. “Without bees, Thanksgiving dinners around the country would look and taste different. No bees means having to do without many of our favorite holiday foods.”
Honeybees, bumblebees, and other bees are critical both to the environment and our food supply. Bees pollinate many of the world’s most common crops, including Thanksgiving favorites such as cranberries, green beans, carrots, brussel sprouts and pie fillings from pumpkin to apple. Bees also pollinate coffee, chocolate and the alfalfa eaten by dairy cows.
“As a chef I cherish food, the environment and pollinators, unsung heroes that support our food systems,” said Chef Gabe Kennedy, winner of ABC's The Taste and Culinary and Creative Directory for The Little Beet. “Bees are really Earth’s perfect little worker. Bee’s and other pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. This is why it is critical for us to educate, advocate and support the creatures that keep food on our table.”
Unfortunately, millions of bees are dying across the U.S. every year. Beekeepers report they are losing an average of 30% of all honeybee colonies annually. Not only are honeybees in danger; native bees, including bumblebees, are also at risk. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the first bee in the continental U.S., the rusty patched bumblebee, to the endangered species list earlier this year.
Scientists point to several reasons why bees are dying off, including global warming, habitat loss, parasites and a class of bee-killing pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics.
Sharing some of the same chemical properties as nicotine, neonics are neurotoxins that can kill bees immediately and also can disorient bees, making it harder for them to pollinate plants and get back to their hives. Despite the fact that the science is clear on the dangers, neonic use has dramatically increased over the past decade. A recent study found that 86% of North American honey sampled contained neonics.
“Bees might be little in size, but they are huge in importance,” said Elisa Rosenberg, owner of Brooklyn based restaurants Colonie and Gran Electrica. “They play such a critical role in our food system and our ecosystem. A world without bees would be a world without fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Our menu - and our planet - would be completely unrecognizable.”
“We can never take good food for granted, or the essential bee populations that help us create it,” said Suzanne Scherr, chef and cookbook author.
In February, Environment New York joined with Environment America to launch the Bee Friendly Food Alliance, a national network of over 240 chefs, restaurant owners and other leaders in the food industry working to protect the bees. In New York, restaurant owners who are part of the Alliance include Andrew Tarlow of Marlow, Inc., whose behind Williamsburg icon Diner and its adjacent outpost Marlow & Sons.
Together, chefs and restaurant owners are educating their customers and the public about the problems facing bees and the food supply and making their voices heard to protect bees. Working with Environment New York, chefs and restaurant owners are calling on the U.S. EPA to stop the use of bee-killing pesticides.
“I’m looking forward to eating my favorite pumpkin pie this week,” said Leibowitz. “We need to take action now to protect the bees and ensure we can enjoy these foods with friends and family for many Thanksgivings to come.”