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Tuesday, Mar 11 2014 05:58 PM

Moo Creamery fears losing business over fracking petition

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Moo Creamery in Bakersfield.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Moo Creamery's owners know where their bread is buttered. Or, they do now.

The couple is enduring a backlash, complete with nasty phone calls and threats to picket their Truxtun Avenue restaurant, over an anti-fracking petition they insist they never signed.

Circulated among California food and beverage professionals, the petition seeks a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial but highly effective oilfield technique used frequently in Kern County. No other local businesses were listed as having signed the 145-name petition.

In a brouhaha illustrative of fracking's political divisiveness, Moo Creamery owners Richard Yoshimura and Jessica Pounds on Monday asked the Oakland-based environmental group that circulated the petition to remove their restaurant from the online list of signers. The group complied, though the petition introduced in October had already been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Yoshimura said it remains a mystery how the restaurant made the list in the first place. Neither he nor his wife had any idea what fracking even was, he said.

"I thought fracking was a euphemism for the F-word," he said. "Literally."

For the record, fracking injects water, sand and small concentrations of sometimes toxic chemicals underground at high pressure to free up oil and gas deposits. Environmental groups worry it puts groundwater and air quality at risk, though the oil industry maintains there is no evidence fracking has ever polluted anything.

Not everyone was willing to overlook Moo Creamery's inclusion in the petition.

As recently as Tuesday morning, an employee of a large international oil company with extensive local operations condemned Pounds on the restaurant's Facebook page for taking an anti-fracking stance in Bakersfield, of all places.

"OMG why would someone who owns a restaurant in an oil rich town sign a petition to stop fracking in CA? Jessica did and now she is back peddling and says she did not sign it," the woman wrote.

A spokeswoman for nonprofit that launched the petition drive, Food & Water Watch, said the organization was not sure what happened in Moo Creamery's case.

It could be that someone other than Yoshimura or Pounds filled in an online form using the restaurant's name and email address, said Anna Ghosh, the group's field communications director.

At any rate, she said, businesses should not be bullied for speaking out.

"We don't want anyone to take a position they're not comfortable with," Ghosh said. "We also don't want business owners to feel threatened by speaking out toward protecting their communities."

Yoshimura said it's not like that.

He and his wife work at their restaurant 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and that leaves no time for political activism, he emphasized.

"We're both completely astonished" at the misrepresentations and false accusations that may be costing the restaurant business, he said.

He acknowledged that the celebrity chef behind the fracking petition -- Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley's Chez Panisse -- is his and Pounds' "culinary idol," and that this connection may have led to the confusion.

But Moo Creamery is not about to take a stance in opposition to the very businesses his business counts as catering clients, he said.

"You do what you do to make your living," he said. "We do what we do to make ours."

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