NYC.andre via Flicker
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“Doonesbury” skewered BP's inept public response to the Gulf oil-rig explosion, and questions about seafood safety also found their way into the comic strip: Blackened shrimp, oil-soaked scallops, and tar-encrusted crab were all on the menu at the fast-food emporium where Zonker works.
In Seattle, the mood is grim. Kevin Davis, co-owner of Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood, knows more than anyone in town what the stakes are. A native of Louisiana whose father was a drilling superintendent for Shell Oil, Davis grew up fishing in bayous and marshes that are now black with tar. Still, he's hopeful: “The fisherman know it's bad, but they're saying, 'Don't abandon us.' ”
Davis' professional colleagues around the country agree. Chefs Collaborative, a national organization that fosters a sustainable food system, published a booklet last month, titled "Foods at Risk in the Gulf Coast," that was both cautionary and motivational. "As chefs, we need to support Gulf food producers as best we can,” it concluded. “Our support is critical to keeping our food culture alive and the local economy from collapsing."
Still, WalMart has suspended the sale of seafood in Florida because of rising prices and falling demand. In Seattle, it's hard to find "Gulf Prawns” or “Louisiana Crabmeat” on the menu anywhere. Crayfish, being a freshwater species, are safe so far, although at last report oil had found its way into the larvae of blue crab and fiddler crab, a particularly bad sign for the speckled trout that feed on the crustaceans. To say nothing of the disruption of the bluefin tuna's spawning grounds in the Gulf. But the least fortunate of the Gulf's creatures would appear to be its oysters, once wildly abundant, now on the road to extinction. And the Gulf's communities of African-American oystermen, sad to say, appear to have been excluded from the (paying) jobs of cleaning up the mess.
We shouldn't feel smug just because we're up here in the Pacific Northwest. Kevin Davis told me, discussing the Gulf oil disaster, “Anybody who drives a car is implicated.”
For its part, BP has been running ads saying, "We'll make this right." But the company also claims that in order to pony up the $20 billion it's promised in damages, it has to continue deep-water drilling.
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Chef Davis is also at the forefront of another environmental battle, 1,600 miles in the opposite direction from Seattle. Alaska's Bristol Bay, southwest of Anchorage and surrounded by thousands of square miles of Alaskan tundra, is "home" to half the world's wild sockeye salmon: Some 60 million animals pass through the bay enroute to their spawning grounds. It's a majestic landscape, inhabited only by a handful of native villages. Except for the salmon fishery out on the treacherous waters, there's no industry. “Vote with your fork,” says the promotional literature in a dozen Seattle restaurants that serve Bristol Bay salmon.
Enter the developers in the form of Northern Dynasty, parent company of a mining project called the Pebble Partnership. A wealth of minerals lies beneath the tundra, and Pebble wants it. Gold, copper, molybdenum, silver, rhenium, palladium. The land was opened to mining in the waning days of the Bush administration, and the project had the enthusiastic support of Alaska's former governor, Sarah Palin. Trouble is, getting at the riches would require a vast open-pit mine, the world's biggest, on the headwaters of Bristol Bay. The pit would measure 15 miles across; the dam to hold back the mine's toxic tailings would be 700 feet high and 4.5 miles across, the world's most massive, bigger than the Three Gorges Dam in China, and built on a seismic fault.
Davis, along with Seth Caswell of Emmer & Rye (and head of the Seattle Chefs Collaborative), is worried about the threats the mine would pose to Alaska's native culture. John Shively, on the other hand, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, says the chefs don't understand the project or appreciate what it could do for the people of the region.
Going a step further, a former Alaska legislator, Gail Phillips, last year called for a boycott of the Seattle restaurants supporting Bristol Bay. In response, Zach Lyons, spokesman for a group of Seattle farmers markets, said, “Just because no permits have been issued or applied for does not mean people concerned with the potential of this proposed mine should not already be taking action. Once permits start happening with mine projects, it is often too late."
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So here's one that hasn't happened yet. Can't happen, won't happen, we convince ourselves. Trouble is, if it were to happen, there's no blow-out preventer to stop it.
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, adjoining the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, is “home” to this country's largest stockpile of plutonium waste. The Columbia Valley wine region, covering virtually the entire Columbia basin, is also the country's largest AVA (American Viticultural Area), by acreage.
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