Please keep me safe from sustainability fanatics, those who see only black and white issues, refusing to consider all of the gray that exists. They may believe they are doing good, but their efforts more often have a negative effect. They turn away far more people than they convert, like the old cliche of attracting more flies with honey than vinegar. Their solutions, often more idealistic than realistic, fail to properly address the real problems.
I am currently attending the second annual Chefs Collaborative National Summit, Redefining our Culinary Traditions, which has brought together approximately 300 chefs, culinary professionals, and members of the food media. The Summit is "... focused on the theme of integrating sustainable principles into regional culinary and agricultural heritage." Their focus certainly has a very appealing ring to it, and they have compiled an impressive agenda.
The Chefs Collaborative is a nonprofit group with the mission statement: "Chefs Collaborative works with chefs and the greater food community to celebrate local foods and foster a more sustainable food supply. The Collaborative inspires action by translating information about our food into tools for making knowledgeable purchasing decisions. Through these actions, our members embrace seasonality, preserve diversity and traditional practices, and support local economies."
Though the Summit began yesterday, the first day was more just registration and informal networking at Rendezvous and Russell House Tavern. Monday and Tuesday are the heart of the Summit, including numerous discussion sessions about a diverse selection of sustainability topics, from seafood to heirloom fruits & vegetables to meat. I am planning to attend as many sessions as I can: to try to learn, to discuss these important issues, to meet new people, and more. I know some of those attending, and they are good, sensible people.
Of the new people I have met so far, they too have seemed to be good people. I have yet to encounter any fanatics, and I would be immensely pleased if I didn't meet any during this event. Though I suspect I may run into at least a couple, as it seems to go with the territory. Maybe the Summit would have benefited from honing their mission statement and purpose to "sensible sustainability," to better reflect the realities of our lives.
The best way to begin a discussion or debate of an important issue is to start by defining your terms. Sustainability is a complex issue, and even its definition is somewhat vague and disputed. So if even the definition has lots of gray, then how can the overall topic be black and white? It cannot. So we must do the best we can, considering all of the relevant factors that are involved. We must be sensible and flexible in our consideration of this topic, and the actions we wish to enact. That is the path to true change.
I hope to meet many sensible people at the Summit and work toward realistic solutions to the sustainability dilemmas. Each person has a role to play, and it is together that we can accomplish even more than we do individually. Sustainability fanatics are obstacles to change, and they need to understand the fatal flaw of their inflexibility and unrealistic attitudes.
Instead of being a fanatic, be a zealous and sensible advocate for sustainability.