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Covid-19 is killing restaurants. So why is Michelin still obsessing about star ratings?

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(CNN) — Walk into almost any fine dining kitchen and the chances are its chefs would say there’s only one holy grail of achievement in their profession: to be awarded a Michelin star.

Since 1926 in France, and more recently around the world, these accolades have come to represent the pinnacle of cuisine and also helped raise the profile of French tire giant Michelin.

Although not every chef seeks to earn them for their restaurant — some have famously refused and returned them — it’s undeniable that there’s no more influential mark of success.

But these are times of seismic upheaval for the global hospitality industry. Tens of thousands of restaurants are closing, hundreds of thousands of people have been put out of work. Livelihoods have been destroyed and dreams shattered.

And yet, this year, as ever, Michelin is continuing to award or remove stars and publish its exacting reviews of fine dining establishments.

For some in the industry, that’s a step too far for Michelin that will do little to enhance the dining guide in an age when many restaurant workers are becoming more vocal about what they say are the damaging pressures of trying to live up to such rigorous standards.

As the pandemic continues, Michelin’s determination to carry on publishing could see the guide face its own reckoning with the coronavirus.

As always, it’s a polarizing debate, with passionate views on both sides.

‘Uphill battle’

London's Ledbury restaurant is among Michelin-starred establishments to close for good during the pandemic.

London’s Ledbury restaurant is among Michelin-starred establishments to close for good during the pandemic.

John Stillwell/PA Images/Getty Images

Other prestigious awards have already made calls to suspend activity, given this year’s extraordinary circumstances.

Covid-19 was one of a number of factors behind this year’s cancellation of The James Beard Awards, the prestigious American benchmark of culinary success, in their Restaurant and Chefs categories.

Clare Reichenbach, the foundation’s CEO, cited the “grave negative effects of Covid-19” and said that doling out prizes would “do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle.”

Beyond the virus, that battle, say some, extends to other major issues currently challenging global society.

Among them, David Kinch, chef-owner at California’s Manresa, who had earlier announced on Instagram he was withdrawing himself for consideration as a James Beard Outstanding Chef nominee.

“The hospitality industry is rife with rampant gender and racial inequality and numerous obstacles impede restaurateurs’ ability to pay living wages to their teams, focus on sustainability and foster positive work environments,” he wrote.

So, given the current parlous state of the restaurant business, why is Michelin still visiting restaurants, inspecting and awarding its stars? And in this time of uncertainty and anguish, do the stars it awards continue to carry the prestige they once did?

The guide’s international director, Gwendal Poullennec, insists that now more than ever Michelin’s inspectors have a role to play. He says their critical gaze is a force for good that can help support the beleaguered industry.

The selections they make for next year’s guide, he says, will “put a spotlight on the industry and restaurants which in some parts of the world are still facing the effects of the crisis.”

“It is also a way to invite foodies to go back to restaurants.”

Gastronomic pulse

Gwendal Poullennec says Michelin is a vital spotlight on the dining scene at a time of crisis.

Gwendal Poullennec says Michelin is a vital spotlight on the dining scene at a time of crisis.

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

Whether those foodies will still have an appetite remains to be seen. Many Michelin restaurants — especially those with two or three stars — derive income from international visitors now absent due to global travel restrictions.

In London, The Ledbury and The Greenhouse, both holding two Michelin stars, have shut permanently. In New York, Michelin-starred eateries Gotham Bar & Grill, Jewel Bako and Nix have also closed for good, as have Trois Mecs and Somni from Chef José Andrés in Los Angeles.

There are, unfortunately, plenty more examples, notably in the United States where strict lockdowns in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and California all hit areas where Michelin awards stars.

Consequently, the release of the 2021 Michelin Guides in the United States will be delayed. “Official timing will be announced as the pandemic recovery takes shape,” the organization recently told Food & Wine magazine.

Meanwhile, the dining guide has launched what it calls an “international barometer” to keep track of those premises still in business.

“Our purpose was to take the pulse of global gastronomy in order to inform and build awareness of our ecosystem,” says Poullennec. He says the barometer currently registers that, at time of writing, 85% of Michelin-starred restaurants were open.

While that’s a distinct improvement compared to the height of the crisis — back in April, only 13% of global restaurants holding Michelin stars were still operating — it doesn’t register the extent of terminal closures.

“At the time, the number of restaurants that have closed permanently is almost impossible to give as it is a volatile one,” Poullennec adds. “The situation is moving and changing on a daily basis.”

Michelin also points out its special projects such as “Le Bon Menu” in France, which uses social media to support chefs helping out those in need and highlight restaurants that have pivoted to takeaway, delivery and other business models.

That hasn’t stopped calls from a number of chefs to get Michelin to do more to support businesses in such dark days.

Under pressure to survive

Shane Osborn:

Shane Osborn: “I don’t really think it’s a time for Michelin to be judging restaurants.”

Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Australian Shane Osborn, from Hong Kong’s one Michelin-starred Arcane, is one of the most respected chefs in the city, someone with a history of Michelin-garlanded success at restaurants including London’s Pied à Terre.

Given the bleak scenarios facing many in the industry, he says there should be a moratorium on reviews.

“It’s a tricky one but I don’t really think it’s a time for Michelin to be judging restaurants when businesses are under extreme pressure to stay afloat,” he says.

“Working with limited staff because places have made layoffs, staff are stretched, while even the supply chain of ingredients is affected, particularly here in Asia. We usually get two deliveries from Japan a day — recently we were only getting three a week.

“So businesses are under immense pressure just to survive, but I also understand that from a chef’s point of view, most in the industry absolutely adore Michelin. It’s everything they work for and it’s that bit of good news they look forward to, it validates all the hard work and effort they’ve put into it, working 16 hours a day.

“But is it really time to celebrate? Judging restaurants where meals can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars when people are losing jobs all over the world?”

Other chefs are adamant that recognition is more important than ever in the current climate.

Gal Ben-Moshe, chef-owner at Prism in Berlin, says his restaurant faced a potentially disastrous loss of bookings as Germany went into lockdown earlier this year.

But, he says, Michelin’s decision to award Prism a star quickly reversed his fortunes.

“When the star was announced, the restaurant just filled up in a matter of minutes, for the next month,” he says. “It was crazy.”

However the impact was arguably greater personally and professionally than financially:

“It gave us the validation and encouragement we needed all along, that we were craving for years,” he adds. “On a personal level, It has also made us feel like this whole journey is worthwhile, with all the sacrifices we make in our private lives.”

‘Bit of a boost’

Gal Ben-Moshe says the Michelin guide is still a positive influence on the fine dining industry.

Gal Ben-Moshe says the Michelin guide is still a positive influence on the fine dining industry.

Christoph Soeder/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

As to whether Michelin should be awarding stars this year, Ben-Moshe believes the guide is right to press ahead, insisting it can be a force for good and that its food critics are professional enough to take into account the changes restaurants are making to cope with the current crisis.

“I can tell you that the effect it had on me as a chef and on the restaurant as a business has been uncanny,” he says. “I can only imagine that receiving a star at such crazy times can really save a lot of businesses and give the whole industry a bit of a boost and relevance.”

Steve Zagor, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School who focuses on restaurants and food businesses, says that while the Michelin guide continues to have relevance under normal circumstances, it may struggle right now.

“Michelin is a religion, people subscribe to it,” he says. “They believe in it. In the world today you need credible opinions and not just Yelp opinions. This is a credible, knowledgeable company that provides a resource for people looking at where they want to go.

“From that perspective, it has value. It has history and it’s a meaningful judge of what’s going on.”

However, he says, 2020’s unique circumstances mean that it’s far from the usual environment.

“Right now is a little bit like reviewing restaurants on a ship in a hurricane. It’s just an exceptional situation. I don’t believe you’re getting a complete validation of what the restaurant owner is trying to do.”

He explains that the dining experience is now so fundamentally different from the usual scenario that there are question marks over whether Michelin can apply the same sort of inspection criteria as previously.

“You can’t compare year-to-year, this is not the same as it was in 2017, 2018. Social distancing means menus have changed, preparation, techniques, capacities have changed.

“So the experiences are different, there’s too much else going on, most restaurant operators are just trying to stay solvent and do the best they can. So I think it’s cheapening the entire Michelin experience.”

‘History and culture’

Vicky Lau:

Vicky Lau: “Michelin has an important role now more than ever.”

May Tse/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

Vicky Lau, chef at Tate Dining Room in Hong Kong, a restaurant that’s held one star since 2012 thanks to her elegant cuisine melding Chinese and French influences and ingredients, says Michelin offers a beacon of certainty in uncertain times.

“I think Michelin has an important role, now more than ever, to help restaurants and sustain tourism — and then boost them when everything is back to normal,” she says.

“It still has an important space in chefs’ hearts, to maintain a food language that speaks of history and culture.”

CNN reached out to a number of other high-profile chefs in countries including France and the United States to ask their opinion on the Michelin debate, but they declined to answer.

No doubt Michelin’s insistence on continuing to critically survey the fine dining landscape is, in part, due to commercial obligations, not least the guides it produces in partnership with tourism boards or private companies.

Asked about these, Michelin stressed its purpose remained defined by independence and the mission of its anonymous inspectors to recommend the best experiences to “international foodies.”

“Of course, this year having been an exceptional one, our inspectors have had to adapt their work and their editorial publication.

“In some places, they have had to delay the unveiling of their selections in order to fairly and properly finish their selection work but in each destination, they have done their best to issue consistent and relevant restaurant selections.”

Some Michelin guides for this year, such as Taiwan and Slovenia, have already appeared. When the rest emerge, one thing is for sure: They will, as they have since the star ratings were launched back in 1926, continue to provoke discussion and debate.

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Are we living in a computer simulation? I don’t know. Probably.

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Are we living in a computer simulation?

The question seems absurd. Yet there are plenty of smart people who are convinced that this is not only possible but perhaps likely.

In an influential paper that laid out the theory, the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom showed that at least one of three possibilities is true: 1) All human-like civilizations in the universe go extinct before they develop the technological capacity to create simulated realities; 2) if any civilizations do reach this phase of technological maturity, none of them will bother to run simulations; or 3) advanced civilizations would have the ability to create many, many simulations, and that means there are far more simulated worlds than non-simulated ones.

We can’t know for sure which of these is the case, Bostrom concludes, but they’re all possible — and the third option might even be the most probable outcome. It’s a difficult argument to wrap your head around, but it makes a certain amount of sense.

Rizwan Virk, a computer scientist and video game designer, published a 2019 book, The Simulation Hypothesis, that explores Bostrom’s argument in much greater detail and traces the path from today’s technology to what he calls the “Simulation Point,” the moment at which we could realistically build a Matrix-like simulation.

I know nothing about computer science, but this idea that we’re all characters in an advanced civilization’s video game is, well, kind of awesome. So I reached out to Virk and asked him to break it down for me.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

Pretend I know absolutely nothing about the “simulation hypothesis.” What the hell is the simulation hypothesis?

Rizwan Virk

The simulation hypothesis is the modern equivalent of an idea that’s been around for a while, and it is the idea that the physical world that we live in, including the Earth and the rest of the physical universe, is actually part of a computer simulation.

You can think of it like a high resolution or high-fidelity video game in which we are all characters, and the best way to understand it within Western culture is the movie The Matrix, which many people have seen, or even if they haven’t seen [it], it’s become a cultural phenomenon now beyond the film industry.

In that movie, Keanu Reeves plays the character Neo, who meets a guy names Morpheus, who is aptly named after the Greek god of dreams, and Morpheus gives him a choice of taking the red pill or the blue pill. And if he takes the red pill, he wakes up and realizes that his entire life, including his job, the building he lived in, and everything else, was part of this elaborate video game, and he wakes up in a world outside of the game.

That is the basic version of the simulation hypothesis.

Sean Illing

Are we living in a simulated universe right now?

Rizwan Virk

There are lots of mysteries in physics that are better explained by the simulation hypothesis than by what would be a material hypothesis.

The truth is that there’s much we simply don’t understand about our reality, and I think it’s more likely than not that we are in some kind of a simulated universe. Now, it’s a much more sophisticated video game than the games we produce, just like today World of Warcraft and Fortnite are way more sophisticated than Pac-Man or Space Invaders. They took a couple of decades of figuring out how to model physical objects using 3D models and then how to render them with limited computing power, which eventually led to this spate of shared online video games.

I think there’s a very good chance we are, in fact, living in a simulation, though we can’t say that with 100 percent confidence. But there is plenty of evidence that points in that direction.

Sean Illing

When you say there are aspects of our world that would make more sense if they were part of a simulation, what do you mean exactly?

Rizwan Virk

Well, there are a few different aspects, one of which is this mystery they call quantum indeterminacy, which is the idea that a particle is in one of multiple states and you don’t know that unless you observe the particle.

Probably a better way to understand it is the now-infamous example of Schrödinger’s cat, which is a cat that the physicist Erwin Schrödinger theorized would be in a box with some radioactive material and there was a 50 percent chance the cat is dead and a 50 percent chance the cat is alive.

Now, common sense would tell us that the cat is already either alive or it’s dead. We just don’t know because we haven’t looked in the box. We open the box and it’ll be revealed to us whether the cat is alive or dead. But quantum physics tells us that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time until somebody opens up the box to observe it. The cardinal rule is the universe renders only that which needs to be observed.

Sean Illing

How does Schrödinger’s cat relate to a video game or a computer simulation?

Rizwan Virk

The history of video game development is all about optimizing limited resources. If you asked somebody in the 1980s if you could you render a game like World of Warcraft, which is a full three-dimensional or a virtual reality game, they would say, “No, It would take all the computing power in the world. We couldn’t render all those pixels in real time.”

But what happened over time was that there were optimization techniques. The core of all these optimizations is “only render that which is being observed.”

The first big game to successfully do this was called Doom, which was very popular in the 1990s. It was a first-person shooter game, and it could render only the light rays and objects which are clearly visible from the point of view of the virtual camera. This is an optimization technique, and it’s one of the things that reminds me of a video game in the physical world.

Sean Illing

I’m going to do the thing that non-scientists always do when they want to sound scientific and invoke Occam’s razor. Isn’t the hypothesis that we’re living in a flesh-and-blood physical world the simpler — and therefore more likely — explanation?

Rizwan Virk

I’ll bring up a very famous physicist, John Wheeler. He was one of the last physicists who worked with Albert Einstein and many of the great physicists of the 20th century. He said that physics was initially thought to be about the study of physical objects, that everything was reducible to particles. This is what’s often called the Newtonian model. But then we discovered quantum physics and we realized that everything was a field of probabilities and it wasn’t actually physical objects. That was the second wave in Wheeler’s career.

The third wave in his career was the discovery that at the core level, everything is information, everything is based on bits. So Wheeler came up with a famous phrase called “it from bit,” which is the idea that anything we see as physical is really the result of bits of information. He didn’t live to see quantum computers come into reality, but it’s looking more like that.

So I would say that if the world isn’t really physical, if it’s based on information, then a simpler explanation might in fact be that we are in a simulation that is generated based on computer science and information.

Sean Illing

Is there any way, in principle, for us to prove definitively that we’re living in a simulation?

Rizwan Virk

Well, there’s an argument the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has made that’s worth repeating. He says that if even one civilization got to the point of creating one of these high-fidelity simulations, then they can create literally billions of civilizations that are simulated, each with trillions of beings, because all you need is more computing power.

So he’s making a statistical argument that there are more likely to be more simulated beings than there are biological ones, just because it’s so quick and easy to create them. Therefore, if we are conscious beings, we are more likely to be a simulated being than a biological one. That’s more of a philosophical argument.

Sean Illing

If we were living in a computer program, I assume that program would consist of rules and that those rules could be broken or suspended by the people or beings who programmed the simulation. But the laws of our physical world seem to be pretty constant, so isn’t that a sign that this might not be a simulation?

Rizwan Virk

Computers do follow rules, but the fact that the rules always apply doesn’t rule in or rule out that we could be part of a computer simulation. One of the concepts that ties into this is a concept called computational irreducibility, and it’s the idea that in order to figure something out, you can’t just calculate it in an equation; you have to actually go through the steps to figure out what the end result would be.

And this is part of a branch of mathematics called chaos theory. There’s the old idea that the butterfly flaps its wings in China and it results in a hurricane somewhere else in the world. To figure that out, you have to actually go through and model every step of the way. Just because the rules seem to apply doesn’t mean that we’re not in a simulation.

In fact, it could be more evidence that we’re in a simulation.

Sean Illing

If we were living in a simulation as convincing as The Matrix, would there be any discernible difference between the simulation and reality? Why would it matter ultimately whether our world was real or illusory?

Rizwan Virk

There are a lot of debates around this topic. Some of us wouldn’t want to know, and would rather take the metaphorical “blue pill” like in The Matrix.

Probably the most important question related to this is whether we are NPCs (non-player characters) or PCs (player characters) in the video game. If we are PCs, then that means we are just playing a character inside the video game of life, which I call the Great Simulation. I think many of us would like to know this. We would want to know the parameters of the game we’re playing so that we could better understand it, better navigate it.

If we are NPCs, or simulated characters, then I think it’s a more complicated answer and more frightening. The question is, are all of us NPCs in a simulation, and what is the purpose of that simulation? A knowledge of the fact that we’re in a simulation, and the goals of the simulation and the goals of our character, I think, would still be interesting to many people — and now we’re back to the case of the holodeck character from Star Trek that discovers that there is a world “out there” (outside the holodeck) that he can’t go to, and perhaps some of us would rather not know in that case.

Sean Illing

How close are we to having the technological capacity to build an artificial world that’s as realistic and plausible as The Matrix?

Rizwan Virk

I lay out 10 stages of technology development that a civilization would have to go through to get to what I call the simulation point, which is the point at which we can create a hyperrealistic simulation like this. We’re at about stage five, which is around virtual reality and augmented reality. Stage six is about learning to render these things without us having to put on glasses, and the fact that 3D printers now can print 3D pixels of objects shows us that most objects can be broken down as information.

But the really difficult part — and this is something not a lot of technologists have talked about — is in The Matrix, the reason they thought they were fully immersed was they had this cord going into the cerebral cortex, and that’s where the signal was beamed. This brain-computer interface is the area that we haven’t yet made that much progress in, but we are making progress in it. It’s in the early stages.

So my guess is within a few decades to 100 years from now, we will reach the simulation point.

This article was originally published on April 18, 2019.


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Lobbyists tried to ban labeling veggie burgers “veggie burgers.” The EU said no.

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Plant-based food makers will still be able to sell products labeled “veggie burgers,” the European Parliament voted on Friday after a week of negotiations.

Why was this up for debate in the first place?

After decades in which veggie burgers and cheese-style vegan spreads have enjoyed their place on the grocery store shelves without controversy, the animal agriculture industry has begun to feel threatened by them in the last few years. Consumption of plant-based foods has increased, especially as the pandemic has damaged supply chains and raised questions about the public health implications of our crowded, disease-ridden factory farms.

And across the United States and the U.K., agriculture lobbies have been fighting back in the same way: trying to make it illegal for their competitors to advertise with labels like “burger” or “sausage.” (Try “tofu patty” or “protein tube.”)

The EU already, three years ago, banned dairy-specific terms like “soy milk” and “vegan cheese,” but it allowed for comparisons on labels, such as “yogurt-style vegan snack.” The proposal under consideration this week would have banned those comparisons as well as banning the use of terms associated with meat products, like “wurst” and “schnitzel” (think “vegan schnitzel”). Ultimately, lawmakers rendered a split decision, banning “yogurt-style” comparisons of nondairy products to similar dairy products but not extending the ban to meat products.

The ostensible justification for such a ban is that consumers are confused. “Marketing is disconnected from the real nature of products, which is just asking for things to spin out of control!” Jean-Pierre Fleury, a spokesman for the EU farmer’s association, claimed.

But opponents of the bill have mocked the assertion that consumers can’t tell the difference between a plant-based alternative meat product and a meat product. “One is a beef burger. One is a plant-based burger,” a satirical Dutch commercial criticizing the proposed ban says, showing the very obvious packaging differences between the products. “But which one is which? It’s impossible to tell. Because they both contain the word ‘burger’.” (You can watch the whole commercial below).

[embedded content]

But there’s a broader context beyond the labeling of these products. For a long time, plant-based meat was a niche product enjoyed only by vegans and vegetarians; it is now a mainstream one. That has the meat industry — both in America and abroad — fighting back.

The rise of plant-based meat

The EU this week has been negotiating the next EU Common Agricultural Policy. One of the most discussed proposals under consideration was the “veggie burger” ban.

But on Friday, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development released a press statement announcing that the members of the European Parliament “rejected all proposals to reserve meat-related names for products containing meat. No change for plant-based products & names they currently use when being sold.”

That means the preexisting ban on dairy labels like “soy milk” will remain in place — even expanded to cover descriptions such as “milk-like” — but it won’t be brought to bear against plant-based meat labelled with words like “burger.” It was a defeat for the animal agriculture industry groups that had pushed for the change.

Vegetarians make up only about 3 percent of consumers in the US and the EU. They’re not really a threat to the dominance of the factory farming industry. What makes plant-based products a threat is their appeal to a completely different group of consumers: meat-eaters who have found that plant-based products fit into their diet and lifestyle while being much better for animals and the environment.

Caroline Bushnell oversees retail research at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that works to promote meat alternatives. “Veggie burgers have been around for many decades,” she told me last year. “Plant-based meats are still just getting started. The next generation is really designed for meat eaters, so the stakes are higher for what the products need to deliver on. People really like the taste of meat. Instead of trying to convince them to eat a kale and quinoa bowl, why not try to make meat for them in a better way?”

So far, the rise of plant-based meat has not cut into the demand for animal-based meat at all — before the pandemic, the factory farming industry was seeing record demand, driven by overall global economic growth. But there’s some reason to think that in the long run, the slaughtered meat industry might really lose market share to the plant-based meat industry. Polls in India and China find more than 60 percent of consumers say they are “very likely” or “extremely likely” to purchase plant-based meat.

As concerns grow worldwide about the impacts of factory farming — on animals, on the environment, and on global public health — the share of consumers open to alternatives might continue to grow.

“We have this great moment of innovation in our industry where these products are better than ever,” Jaime Athos, the CEO of Tofurky, told me last year as his company fought a veggie burger ban law in Arkansas. “They’re more widely available, too. And suddenly people are worried consumers might be confused. The reality is that this is a proactive decision on the parts of consumers — they understand that plant-based products are healthier for them and healthier for the environment.”

Agriculture keeps pushing veggie burger bans. They keep failing.

In several US states, the agriculture industry has responded to the rise of plant-based products with label bans like the one the EU just rejected. Their motivations are often explicitly protectionist: They want to shield slaughtered meat products from plant-based competitors.

“This bill will protect our cattle farmers from having to compete with products not harvested from an animal,” said Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president Mike McCormick in January when Mississippi’s veggie burger ban law passed in the state House.

“We must protect our industry in this state: agriculture. It’s the No. 1 industry in the state of Louisiana,” state Rep. Francis Thompson argued during legislative hearings in Louisiana earlier this year.

In the US, veggie burger bans largely haven’t held up in court on First Amendment grounds. A judge granted an injunction against Mississippi’s law, concluding it was likely to be unconstitutional. When California tried a ban on “soy milk” and similar labels, the US District Court for the Northern District of California struck it down, writing, “The crux of the claims is that a reasonable consumer might confuse plant-based beverages such as soymilk or almond milk for dairy milk, because of the use of the word ‘milk.’ The claim stretches the bounds of credulity. Under Plaintiffs’ logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that veggie bacon contains pork, that flourless chocolate cake contains flour, or that e-books are made out of paper.”

In the EU, though, there is no First Amendment and no strong judicial tradition protecting non-misleading commercial speech. The ban on labels like “soy milk” went into effect three years ago, forcing producers to transition to labels like “yogurt-like” and “similar to cheese!” — which the EU will now ban as well.

This year, the agriculture lobby attempted to follow that ban up with a more comprehensive ban, which would prohibit words like “burger” and “sausage” for products that do not contain slaughtered animals.

The proposal attracted widespread attention — in some cases to the frustration of environmental activists in the EU. They pointed out that the negotiations also covered other critical agricultural guidelines, which also encouraged a transition away from meat toward a healthier global climate, but attracted much less attention than the “veggie burger ban.”

Other agricultural issues deserve attention and scrutiny too, but the veggie burger ban shouldn’t be dismissed as a sideshow. It was a calculated power grab by an industry that is cruel to animals and workers alike, devastates the environment, and puts us at risk of another pandemic. It was aimed at stifling the growing new industry that offers an alternative.

It is a good thing that the EU voted the veggie burger ban down — and it will be a good thing if they similarly relax their restriction on soy milk, and if legislators in the many US states that have entertained burger bans of their own follow suit. Letting consumers choose other products is one of the most powerful tools available to change factory farming — which is, of course, precisely why the factory farming lobby has thrown so much effort into interfering with it.


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‘Ignition of new war:’ Sudan political parties reject Israel deal

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Sudanese political parties have rejected the government’s decision to normalise relations with Israel, with officials saying they will form an opposition front against the agreement.

Dozens of Sudanese people demonstrated in the capital Khartoum on Friday following the joint statement from Israel, Sudan and the United States on Friday saying that the two countries agreed to “end the state of belligerence between their nations”.

A statement from Sudan’s Popular Congress Party, the second most prominent component of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition, said Sudanese people are not obligated to accept the normalisation deal.

“We see that our people, who are being systematically isolated and marginalised from secret deals, are not bound by the normalisation agreement,” the statement said.

“Our people will abide by their historical positions and work through a broad front to resist normalisation and maintain our support for the Palestinian people in order for them to obtain all their legitimate rights.”

Sudan’s former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi also slammed the announcement, adding that he withdrew from a government-organised religious conference on Saturday in Khartoum in protest.

Al-Mahdi, who is the country’s last democratically elected premier and heads the country’s largest political party, said: “This statement contradicts the Sudanese national law … and contributes to the elimination of the peace project in the Middle East and to preparing for the ignition of a new war.”

Kamal Omar, a leader in the Popular Congress Party, said in a separate statement that Sudan’s transitional government is not elected and therefore not authorised to normalise relations with Israel.

“This transitional government hijacked the Sudanese position to satisfy regional and international intelligence agencies,” he said.

Protesters in Khartoum took to the streets and chanted “no peace, no negotiation, no reconciliation with the occupying entity” and “we will not surrender, we will always stand with Palestine”.

Muhammad Wadaa, a leader in the Sudanese Baath Party, which is part of the FFC, said the anti-normalisation front includes a civil force and influential parties from within and outside the forces of freedom and change.

Wadaa said there are a number of parties within the FFC that warned the transitional government they will withdraw their support if normalisation with Israel was agreed to.

“Normalisation with Israel is a move that is rejected. The government is not authorised to take such a decision with a racist state that practises religious discrimination,” he said.

Wadaa told Al Jazeera that “the government made a big mistake and it is a step that will not achieve economic abundance”.

Palestinian officials reacted with dismay as Sudan became the third country to normalise relations recently, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the deal and said the only path towards peace is by resorting to international law to make Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

However, according to Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, many Palestinians believe the PA does not have much to offer other than condemnation.

“For many political analysts here, Palestinians have their backs against the wall and really don’t have much to hope for, other than Trump would not get a second term in office,” she said, speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Many Palestinians on social media say the Sudanese people’s hearts are with the Palestinian people but they were dragged into this by their military rulers.”

On Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry slammed Sudan’s move, saying: “Pay enough ransom, close your eyes on the crimes against Palestinians, then you’ll be taken off the so-called ‘terrorism’ blacklist.”

“Obviously the list is as phoney as the US fight against terrorism. Shameful!” it added.

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