In April, Epicurious—a Condé Nast publication—used its substantial platform to steer consumers away from a single ingredient, stating: “In an effort to encourage more sustainable cooking, we won’t be publishing new beef recipes on Epicurious. The article is a short piece containing familiar percentages and statistics which are laden with philosophical weight.
As SUSTAIN’s managing editor, I have been asked for my take on the Epicurious stance. I think it lacks credibility and vastly oversimplifies an issue that we need to keep on the table.
The publishers of Epicurious have thrown down the gauntlet by asserting that “for any person—or publication—wanting to envision a more sustainable way to cook, cutting out beef is a worthwhile first step.”
We can’t agree with this call to action, such as it is.
As a sustainability publication in the food space, we know that our words matter. At SUSTAIN we support mitigation measures and offer information about real-world solutions. To achieve ecological health and justice for all requires honest dialogue.
How do we collectively empower our global population to produce and consume responsibly?
Well, as a start, the media should not exploit good people who are trying to be better consumers.
This isn’t about beef. We won’t defend or criticize beef because we can’t have a meaningful discussion that begins with a call to eliminate a single ingredient as a panacea for our climate woes.
Epicurious boasts about quietly removing beef from its recipes for a year and its readers were none the wiser. It seems people responded voraciously to beefless recipes.
If we wish to be eco-conscious, sustainable and socially responsible, we have to be empirical and fair. Otherwise, we get agenda-driven content that typifyies the ideological misinformation that already has consumers chewing the cud.
Plant-based eating is a cause célèbre, and a good story needs a great villain. The authors at Epicurious have vilified beef. The reality is far more complex. Sustainability around protein sources and agriculture is dependent on diversity, progress, economic stability and mitigation. Misrepresenting the complexity of these issues is dangerous. Taking such a simple but radical stance has the potential to create major gaps in proven initiatives, not to mention that by doing so, consumers are being misled.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is one of Canada’s preeminent food and ag industry experts. Was he following the hubbub? As a staunch advocate for consumers, you bet he was.
“Is the consumer well-served or not?” asks Charlebois. “I’m always concerned when outlets are trying to influence public opinion… They could get people to make uninformed decisions related to proteins or protein consumption… There’s no such thing as one kind of beef,” he says.
There are several ways of raising crops of all kinds, never mind the intricacies of overlapping economies and supply chains.
Charlebois continues: “If you as a person believe that beef is not good for the environment, that’s entirely your business and the power to you, but you as a scientist or as someone in the industry, you also want to accept that you are influencing a lot of people.
“I’ve always been very supportive of this pluralistic approach to proteins…. Whether it’s a steak or plant-based product, this stomach share mentality is, to me, an innovation killer. It doesn’t allow new products to come if you think that food is a zero-sum game.”
Whether it’s a brand like Epicurious or a restaurant such as Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan, which decided to very publicly go vegan, Charlebois states: “You can become a vegan restaurant, that’s your business, or you can decide to put aside beef, but the rationale to me was a little irresponsible and, frankly, incomplete.”
The bottomline: “These claims warrant valid explanations,” says Charlebois. “Science is not a buffet. You don’t get to pick and choose the science you want. What is right today may not be right tomorrow. And what’s going on with ‘the protein wars,’ we’re weaponizing science against the other camp, which is not the right thing to do.”
Charlebois says he believes all sides are guilty of this.
We certainly see this when conducting our research for SUSTAIN. Not only “one side” employs these tactics; we’re all in danger of doing so. We need to do better—as stakeholders, marketing boards, media professionals, and as consumers.
Agriculture is energy, resource and labour-intensive—and vital to survival, food security and the health of the planet. How do we address climate change in the context of agriculture?
We learn. We innovate. We disrupt. We share knowledge scrupulously and consciously.
Be truly and epically curious
We believe it is most sustainable to look at our agricultural practices as a global society. We encourage our readers to ask questions, explore ideas, and engage in these tough conversations.
Verify the information you’re being fed.
Make decisions based on your values, concerns and on the advice of proven experts.
Following are pointers and sample questions we suggest you start from, and we’ve included links to additional reading.
What does the big agriculture picture look like in Canada?
There are so many more important places our industry should be placing its emphasis on. How might we effectively mitigate and transform agriculture in general in order to fight climate change?
Is regenerative farming scalable?
We can’t just eliminate X or Y, we can’t just do A or B; we believe that mitigation and innovation are the keys to taking on climate change. What are some of the real sustainability movements and innovations in farming today?
Check out this map of regenerative farms in Canada.
Do you have questions? Great! Email them to email@example.com.