We don’t see many bees flying around 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 Christy Leavitt with Environment America. “Without bees, Thanksgiving dinners around the country would look and taste different. No bees means no pumpkin pie. No bees means no cranberry sauce.”
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.
"I think many people take for granted the positive impact pollinating bees have over some of the most simple pleasures and comforts in life. It is certainly true that our holiday traditions would be abruptly disrupted without our bees behind the scenes pollinating some of America's favorite crops and foods,” said Jacob Weaver, Executive Chef of Juliet Italian Kitchen in Austin, TX.
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 are 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.
“At Urban Farmer, we are committed to creating a connection between the diner and the grower,” says Matt Christianson, Executive Chef of Urban Farmer in Portland, OR. “In this case, that connection would not be possible without the tireless work of the bees from our rooftop apiary, who provide us with countless fresh ingredients and allow us to present an artful tribute to Oregon’s bounty.”
In February, Environment America launched 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.
Together, chefs and restaurant owners in the Alliance 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 America, chefs and restaurant owners are calling on the US. EPA to stop the use of bee killing pesticides around the country.
“As humans we all have a big responsibility to be aware of the bee die off. And as chefs we have an even larger responsibility to do our part and spread awareness to people eating on our restaurants, our cooks, and our colleagues,” said Ernesto Duran, Chef de Cuisine Corn Maiden at Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in Albuquerque, NM.
“Reinvigorating our local food economy is tremendously important to me as a chef,” said Chef John Shields, of Gertrude’s restaurant in Baltimore, MD. “And the overall health of our local agriculture is completely dependent upon the health of the bees and other pollinators. Without our pollinators—nothing will bear fruit, not our apples, our zucchini or even the alfalfa than is grown to feed our cows and other livestock."
“Fremont Brewing is a member of the Bee Friendly Food Alliance because bees are a crucial part of our ecosystem and protecting the environment is one of our core values,” said Sara Nelson, Co-Founder/Owner of Fremont Brewing in Seattle, WA. “Bees pollinate many of the plants we use as ingredients in our specialty beers and infusions such as berries and lavender and, of course, they produced the 120 lbs of honey we used to make our Pink Boots Pale Ale last March. We are thankful for bees because Bees Matter – not just for our beers but for the planet!”
"Bees are vital to what we do. Our partner farmers rely on bees to pollinate Thanksgiving essentials like apples, squash, pumpkins, cranberries, and green beans. It's hard to imagine how how our food supply would survive without them," said Kim Bartmann, owner of a number of restaurants in the Twin Cities, MN, including Red Stag Supper Club, Tiny Diner, and the Third Bird.
“I’m looking forward to making pumpkin pie later this week,” concluded Leavitt. “We need to take action now to protect the bees and ensure we can enjoy our favorite foods with friends and family for many Thanksgivings to come.”