Famed Chef Alice Waters Leads the Foodie Fight Against Fracking

Waters, the founder of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant, and other foodie icons are protesting against fracking’s impacts on farming and food.

New oil pumpjacks in an agricultural field in Shafter, California.
Photo Credit: Tara Lohan

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) imposed new regulations on the state’s fast-growing fracking industry last week, but dozens of elite chefs are still calling for a complete moratorium on the practice. Led by organic food pioneer Alice Waters, California’s top chefs and food experts are circulating a petition to pressure the governor. By the end of the first day, 92 chefs, restaurant owners, winemakers and authors had signed the petition.

Waters, the founder of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant, and other foodie icons are protesting specifically against fracking’s impacts on farming and food. The Central Valley, which produces one quarter of the nation’s food and 40 percent of American fruits, nuts and other produce, will also now be subjected to new, intensive fracking operations to get at its deep veins of Monterey shale. Energy companies have zeroed in on an estimated 15 billion barrels of shale oil lie beneath the Central Valley farmland and in southern California.

However, fracking requires an enormous amount of water, which is already scarce after a series of punishing droughts. The Central Valley aquifer, a major groundwater resource for farms, is shrinking at a rapid clip. Exacerbating an already fierce regional water war, energy companies are now buying up as much water as they can, outbidding farmers by a 3 to 1 margin.

Groundwater contamination is also a major concern for farmers. Leakage from one fracking operation in Kern County killed a swath of almond and pistachio trees, costing the farmer who cultivated them millions of dollars. Other farmers report chloride contamination in their wells and poisoned livestock.

Waters expresses these concerns in her petition. “In states already experiencing rampant fracking operations, leaks and spills have damaged crops, killed livestock and sickened the people near drilling operations, which are commonly found in agricultural communities that grow our food,” she warns. “As chefs, restaurateurs and eaters who cherish and rely on the natural bounty cultivated and cared for by our state’s farmers, ranchers and food producers, we cannot stand by and allow the same fate to befall California’s unparalleled food shed.”

Chefs for the Marcellus, another anti-fracking group in New York including celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Bill Telepan, has voiced similar concerns to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY).

Though most Californians favor a moratorium on fracking, Brown is holding off until further research into the potential impacts of fracking is completed.

Aviva Shen is Associate Editor of ThinkProgress. Before joining CAP, Aviva interned and wrote for Smithsonian Magazine, Salon, and New York Magazine. She also worked for the Slate Political Gabfest, a weekly politics podcast from Slate Magazine.

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