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Don’t be a Restaurant menu denier! Atlantic Mag claims ‘You Can Spot Climate Change in Old Restaurant Menus’


You Can Spot Climate Change in Old Restaurant Menus
In the 1880s, Vancouver’s seafood joints served lots of salmon. These days they serve squid.

By Ian Rose

In a new study, a team from the University of British Columbia (UBC) shows one unexpected way that climate effects are already manifesting in our daily lives. To find it, they looked not at thermometers or ice cores, but at restaurant menus.

“With a menu, you have a physical and digital record that you can compare over time,” explains William Cheung, a fisheries biologist at UBC and one of the study’s authors. Cheung has spent his career studying climate change and its effects on the world’s oceans. He has contributed to several of the landmark reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but along with John-Paul Ng, an undergraduate student at UBC, he wanted to find a different way to both study and communicate those changes.

“Many people, especially in Vancouver, go out to restaurants and enjoy seafood, so we wanted to see whether climate change has affected the seafood that the restaurants serve,” Cheung says.

The team gathered menus from hundreds of restaurants around the city, as well as from restaurants farther afield in Anchorage, Alaska, and Los Angeles, California. Current menus were easy to find, but digging into the history of Vancouver’s seafood proved a bit trickier. Doing so required help from local museums, historical societies, and even city hall—which the researchers were surprised to learn has records of restaurant menus going back more than a century—to compile their unusual data set. In all, they managed to source menus dating back to the 1880s.

One restaurant that became an important data point in the study was the historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and its restaurant Notch8, a 10-minute walk from the harbor’s edge in the city’s financial district. The researchers were able to find examples of the hotel’s menus from the 1950s, ’60s, ’80s, ’90s, and today.