Disclaimer: No Bees Were Involved in the Making of This Show

How can cooking shows help spread the word about the endangerment of bees?

Photo Credit: Saveur

In early October, and for the first time in American history, bees were added to the federal list of endangered species. This is a serious problem, because our lives depend on theirs. You might not think about the critical role of bees when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner next week, but bee-lieve it or not, humans have a small, furry, flying insect to thank for about one-third of the food we consume. Seventy out of the top 100 crops are pollinated by bees. And yes, that includes avocados.

Habitat loss, climate change and pesticide use all contribute to the demise of our pollinators. While habitat loss and climate change will require longer term, systems-level change, many environmental organizations have been asking our elected officials to pass ordinances to reduce the application of neonics, a potent class of pesticides thought to be culpable for bee declines, and urging corporations to stop making, selling and using these pesticides. However, without public pressure, policy makers and corporations aren’t as likely to respond.

Here’s where Bravo’s Top Chef — one of the most devoured cooking shows of all time — comes in. We know that television shows are excellent vehicles for educating audiences about important social issues and promoting major change — especially when they work in concert with nonprofits and campaigns — but cooking shows, despite being some of the most-watched television, have been untapped by changemakers.

Tom Colicchio and Padma Laxmi of Top Chef

Top Chef and similar shows including MasterChef, Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped and Chef’s Table pose complex cooking challenges to contestants, such as catering a wedding with 16 hours of notice, or creating sexy dishes for a San Francisco fetish shop. Why not pit chefs against one another to create their favorite dishes using only foods that do not require pollination from bees? For a “no pollinators picnic,” contestants could only use items that would be available to them in a not-so-distant future without bees. This means no watermelon (!), squash (say bye to pumpkin pie), apples, oranges, sweet potatoes, berries (it’s dry turkey folks — forget about cranberry sauce), almonds, avocados and onions, among other favorite foods.

Even Top Chef’s head judge Tom Colicchio, who co-founded the advocacy group Food Policy Action, thinks it’s time for the food entertainment industry to move the needle on environmental issues. Colicchio said, “It’s great that we have all these shows with chefs. I think the next step is getting a little deeper than food as entertainment and looking more at the social issues around food. How it’s produced. The effect it has on the environment.” The top chef already has used his fame to call attention to food waste and hunger in America, labeling GMOs andexpanding school lunch programs.

Your favorite salad bar with and without bees.

With recent widespread bee die-offs (seriously — nearly ONE-THIRD of all honeybees in the U.S. have died in the last few years), the food entertainment industry has an opportunity to use its voice to call attention to an issue that threatens global food production. We encourage Bravo to include this kind of challenge in an upcoming episode. Top Chef’s millions of viewers would see the competition, raising awareness with an unprecedented number of people.

If the network doesn’t pick up this challenge, environmental organizations still can get their message out online. Consider tweeting #TopChef during the Season 14 premiere (December 1 at 9/8c on Bravo) and every Thursday afterward to call out the foods that require pollination from bees. Ask viewers how bee extinction could affect their own favorite dishes. After all, what could bee more important than protecting these necessary insects while watching the shows we love?

Alina Evans is a Communications Executive at AndACTION.