Let pizzas and bagels be

In the quest to save our planet, we must cherish our culinary heritage
Sylvain Charlebois
Professor, Dalhousie University
sylvain charlebois
wood fired pizza
Ottawa is considering requiring certain bakeries and various restaurants using wood-fired ovens for cooking to annually report their total air pollution emissions.

Decarbonizing our economy must remain an absolute priority. We need to adjust our practices to preserve our planet at any cost, a perspective widely shared by most of the population. However, our environmental ambitions can sometimes clash with important aspects of our lives, especially when they compel us to change our culinary habits and traditions. The significant increase in plant-based protein products entering the market has elicited mixed reactions among both omnivores and carnivores, serving as a prime example.

Another area of concern arises with recent intentions from Environment and Climate Change Canada to regulate the use of wood-fired ovens in the restaurant industry. According to a recent statement, Ottawa is considering requiring certain bakeries and various restaurants using wood-fired ovens for cooking to annually report their total air pollution emissions to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Notably, among the establishments using these wood-fired ovens, we find pizzerias and renowned bagel bakeries.

The NPRI is a federally regulated public inventory that lists pollutants emitted into the air, water, and land by industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities. All owners and operators of facilities meeting specific requirements must submit annual reports detailing the total pollution emissions from their establishments to the NPRI, which are then forwarded to the Environment and Climate Change Canada. Failure to report may result in substantial fines.

 READ: COP28's focus on food and Canada's dilemma

A consultant’s dream. This requirement may necessitate many establishments to hire professionals to measure emissions, submit reports, and incur additional costs, which is often the case with such regulations, possibly leading to added taxes. Restaurants do not need additional financial pressures, especially right now.

It should be noted that each city and province has its own rules concerning ovens and fireplaces. Beyond that, the primary goal of this federal registry is to accurately measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the entire economy, including the agri-food sector. 

However, beyond financial concerns, a more fundamental issue arises: cherished tastes and culinary practices that have been celebrated for decades. Wood-fired ovens bring a unique flavour that cannot be replicated by any other means. Without these ovens, bagels lose their distinctive flavour. The Montreal Jewish community has perfected the art of creating the world's best bagels using wood-fired ovens. Montreal bagels, known as "Montreal-Style Bagels," are a treasure integral to the city's heritage and the community that played a significant role in the province's history.

READ: Canadians' food habits change amid climate concerns

As for pizza, the situation becomes even more complex. In 2017, UNESCO declared Neapolitan pizza as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. And you guessed it. To prepare authentic Neapolitan pizza, it is imperative to use a wood-fired oven. Reducing GHG emissions is undoubtedly important, but our intentions can sometimes go too far.

Ultimately, it comes down to preserving our culinary heritage. The environmental cause remains noble, but it becomes essential to put our priorities into perspective and address more pressing environmental issues than the use of wood-fired ovens to bake our pizzas and bagels.

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