Friday, September 23, 2011

Rant: Too Critical Of Sustainability Proponents?

Are we too critical of seafood chefs and restaurants who are striving hard to be sustainable, while largely ignoring those who do little, if anything, toward being sustainable?

This question came to mind through comments posted in Wednesday's Rant, I believe that there are times when we can be very critical of those who should be our allies, as well as times when we ignore offenders who seem  not to care about sustainability. For example, this week I was critical of a seafood dinner being hosted by Chef Richard Garcia of 606 Congress, a chef who works hard to promote sustainability. Why didn't I instead target one of the local sushi joints that serves blue fin tuna and other endangered seafood?

It appears that sustainability proponents are held to a higher standard, to ensure that they are true to their stance and not merely assuming a guise as a marketing gimmick. In addition, these sustainability proponents are role models for the public, so they need to make a good and accurate example or it could damage the reputation of the entire seafood sustainability community. The issue of seafood sustainability is a complex one, and the public needs to be able to trust chefs and restaurants who claim to be sustainable. If the public notices discrepancies, it can further confuse or even anger them. We want these sustainable chefs and restaurants to succeed, and that entails pushing them to be their best, to be accurate, to be honest.

The restaurants which do not claim to offer sustainable seafood are not serving as role models. The public does not have any expectations when they dine there. And if any of the public is truly concerned about sustainability, then they are unlikely to dine at these restaurants anyways. Such restaurants can, and have, been called out at times, with pleas for them to become more sustainable. But it seems our efforts might be better directed in supporting those who are ready to embrace sustainability, making them more competitive against those restaurants which choose not to go that route.

When we are critical of a chef or restaurant, who is a sustainability proponent, it can anger the target, yet usually that target can put aside their ire and become willing to engage in a discussion, to explain their position and address any criticisms. The anger usually abates and a rationale and reasoned discussion occurs, with both sides learning something. They realize that the critic is more of a friend than a foe. With chefs and restaurants who do not espouse sustainability, criticism can also lead to anger but is less likely to lead to a reasoned discussion. It is not the type of discussion that chef or restaurant wants, so they will be unwilling to engage in such an effort. There are certainly exceptions, but it is much easier to deal with those who already desire sustainability.

With my criticism of Chef Garcia's upcoming seafood dinner, the end result was a more detailed explanation and discussion of the sourcing and sustainability of the offered seafood. This additional information can only benefit the public, and promote the idea of sustainable seafood. We might not have agreed about everything, but the discussion remained reasoned and never degenerated into ad hominem arguments. So I think ultimately, my criticisms and questions had a very positive effect. Others should have been asking similar questions, but they did not, so someone had to step up to the plate.

What are your thoughts on these issues?

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