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Dec 19, 2021
It turns out that time’s running out for us to enjoy some of the food we love the most. Climate change is devouring the future of grains and nuts, forcing changes to diets and sparking innovative research by scientists to try and build our collective food resilience. Travel with us in today's Weekender to the highlands and seas, plantations and deserts where our dinner menu is being rewritten. Taste your favorite foods that might soon vanish, and learn about the steps researchers, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens are taking to ensure our children don’t go hungry in future decades.
1 - Goodbye, Nutella
Turkey’s Black Sea coast produces 70 percent of the world’s hazelnut crop. It’s increasingly in demand as confectionery giants — from Ferrero, the Italian manufacturer of the mega-popular Nutella, to Lindt and Mars Wrigley — try to meet a booming market for hazelnut-based chocolate products. There’s just one problem: Rising sea temperatures and summer storms are devastating Turkey’s hazelnut production with growing frequency. And while bigger chocolate firms like Ferrero are setting up plantations in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Georgia and Serbia to reduce their dependence on Turkey, that’s only a Band-Aid. Ultimately, these countries aren’t immune from climate change either. Global warming’s coming for your sweet tooth.
Savor each sip. The days might be numbered for your morning cup of joe. Scientists have found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are in danger of going extinct in the years to come. These species are the genetic pool that keep coffee a living, breathing phenomenon with intermixing allowing for new flavors to emerge. Without them, it’s time to dig coffee’s grave. And that’s not all. Coffee is mostly produced by small-scale farmers with tiny land tracts in Africa and South America — and the livelihoods of these vulnerable farmers are at stake too.
3 - Disappearing Bolivian Potatoes
Bolivia’s food supply has long been supplemented by chũno, a potato product made practically indestructible by an ancient freeze-drying process. But climate change is killing it, locals say — the weather is too unpredictable to freeze and preserve the potato matter, which could make it harder for rural populations to make it through the lean times.
It’s the raw truth. Seaweed, a central element of Japanese cuisine — and particularly vital for the sheets used to wrap sushi — is disappearing from Tokyo Bay, driving up prices. The irony? Warming waters are only partly to blame. Japan’s tightening regulations against pollution are restricting the flow of fertilizers and agricultural waste — nutrients that help seaweed thrive — to the sea.
Modern agriculture is overwhelmingly dependent on just a handful of crops: Wheat, rice, corn and soybeans constitute 60 percent of the plant-based calories we consume. That’s risky at a time when climate change is rapidly pushing down production levels of these crops. Which is why scientists are now turning their attention to ancient, climate-resilient grains from Africa and Asia like teff, amaranth, sorghum and buckwheat as the path to our future food security. These grains were ignored in the latter half of the 20th century in favor of crops like wheat and corn that were much easier to produce on large scales to feed the world’s population. But modern technology now allows genetic tweaks to these traditional grains that allow farmers to produce them in unprecedented quantities without compromising their nutritional or resilient qualities.
Though it sits at the mouth of the Red Sea, on the Horn of Africa, the self-governing territory of Somaliland has no history of fishing outside the tiny port city of Berbera. A strip of desert lines much of its coast. But climate change is forcing the self-declared state to learn fishing and is in turn helping build a new industry that is creating jobs for women, bringing back Somalilanders who had fled to other nations and is carving out a nascent economy that had seemed impossible. Livestock constitutes 30 percent of Somaliland’s GDP, and red meat has historically been the primary source of protein. But a 2017 drought killed off more than half of Somaliland’s livestock. That urgency is making Somalilanders pick up fishing and change their diet. Today, the territory is already exporting fish to Ethiopia.
Savor it without worrying that your favorite treat is contributing to the destruction of the planet. Each bar of traditional chocolate uses 1,000 liters of water. Britain’s chocolate industry alone produces as much annual carbon emissions as the CO2 output of the city of El Paso, Texas. Indian chocolatier Nitin Chordia is showing the industry how to break free of that climate-unfriendly trap with Kocoatrait, the world’s first zero-waste chocolate. It uses reclaimed cotton and cocoa bean husks to create ultrathin wrapping paper that is sustainable and lighter to transport, cutting its carbon footprint. Turn the wrappers inside out and another surprise awaits you: They’re embossed with intricate Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Shinto art that you won’t want to throw away. The chocolate itself is made from organic ingredients and unrefined sugar. Sweet.
Climate change isn’t all death and destruction. It’s also expected to increase Northern Europe’s arable land 40 percent by 2080, compared to 1990. Countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway are seeing longer growing seasons accompanied by warmer and wetter weather than ever before — conditions that are perfect for the cultivation of grapes for wine, wheat, maize and other crops. So look beyond the vineyards of Spain and Italy, Australia and Chile: The newest wine find might be coming to you from Scandinavia. Of course, the nature of climate change means things can flip rapidly, but until then, at least some farmers are raising a toast to global warming.
Future Food Trends
1 - Best of Both Worlds
The world of paleolithic communities and modern vegans, that is. Welcome to peganism, a new millennial diet that marries paleo and vegan diets and is rapidly gaining in popularity with a generation worried about the climate and their health. On the surface, the meat- and nuts-heavy paleo diet and vegan food — where meat and animal products are strictly forbidden — might seem at cross-purposes. But that’s precisely the idea: to give people a healthy combination of the two diets, with 75 percent meat and 25 percent fruits and vegetables, and no gluten-, lactose- or beans-based food. The scientific jury’s still out on whether pegan diets actually work. But that isn’t stopping millennials from embracing this new fad.
2 - Down the Rabbit Hole
For centuries, the humble rabbit was viewed by Kenyans as food fit only for the poor — never a meat of choice. But as the country’s population grows rapidly, a climate change-induced shortage of cattle is forcing Kenyans to change their diet. There’s a reason for the expression “to breed like rabbits.” The meat source is plentiful — and also lean and healthy. All of which is making East Africa’s largest economy find merits in a meat it once frowned upon.
3 - Not Sweet as Syrup
As with European wine, climate change is affecting where maple syrup will be produced in North America, moving the industry farther north than ever before. Overall, maple syrup production has risen by 10 percent annually over the past decade — so it has at least doubled over this period. But the industry must prepare to swallow a bitter pill, warn scientists. Maple syrup is expected to get less sweet in the years to come as sugar content drops, once again the result of global warming.
4 - Plant-demic
Plant-based meat is everywhere you look. In 2020, the sector saw a 264 percent increase in sales in the U.S. between March and May, at a time the rest of the food industry was being walloped by the coronavirus pandemic. In part, that’s likely due to a broader shift toward a healthier, climate-friendly diet. But the pandemic also underscored how the supply chain for plant-based meat is a lot more robust than that for traditional meats, which suffered from shortages. All of which points to a clear takeaway: Plant-based meat is here to stay, and will only grow in demand.
Despite being one of the most successful artists in music history, Norah Jones' humility and generous spirit shines through as we sit down to chat with the star. Carlos Watson connects with Norah about her greatest musical influences, what it takes to be an artist, new holiday album I Dream of Christmas and more.
The Oxford University professor is disguising rice with the climate-resistant genes of crops like sorghum. One of the world’s most-consumed grains, rice hates rising temperatures, which is why experts estimate that its yields could shrink by 40 percent by 2100. Not if Langdale has her way, though. She’s tweaking the rice plant to give it a mechanism used by sorghum to break down carbon dioxide — a process known to make crops more resilient to global warming.
She’s getting to the bottom of our food future — literally. The Columbia University professor who grew up clamming on the Puget Sound is studying marine microbes — the heartbeat of the ocean ecosystem that nourish zooplankton and shellfish, which in turn are eaten by larger sea creatures. If these microbes vanish, so will the food chain built on them. Dyhrman’s work has already shown that climate change has made marine microbes change their location. What she finds will tell us whether seafood might soon be history.
He’s cooked for Barack Obama. Gordon Ramsay is in awe of his versatility. He’s India’s first Michelin-starred chef. But Vikas Khanna is much more than the sum of these parts. From New York to Dubai to India and beyond, Khanna is redefining how the world views Indian cuisine, while constantly reinventing himself: as a researcher, author (he’s written 40 books) and filmmaker. Now he’s pursuing his third PhD — on the impact of climate change on spices.
Ruth Khasaya Oniang’O
The Kenyan professor of nutrition is convinced that the path to a safe and healthy future for Africans lies in the continent’s local vegetables and grains. Often ignored, vegetables like jute mallow and African black nightshade are rich in nutrients. Oniang’O is working with Kenyan farmers to convince them to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices, as well as turning to these local vegetables and to climate-resilient crops.
Readers: Take our quiz, send your answers to email@example.com and your name may feature in a Daily Dose next week!
Which four grains are responsible for 60 percent of our plant-based calories?
Rice, wheat, sorghum and teff
Rice, corn, wheat and sorghum
Rice, corn, wheat and soybean
Rice, corn, teff and soybean
Which is the world’s largest producer of hazelnuts?
How much water does it take to produce one bar of chocolate?
Where is wine now being produced because of climate change?
Japan’s seaweed is disappearing. Climate change is one reason. What’s the other?
Overconsumption of seaweed
People eating too much sushi
Too much agriculture pollution
Too little agricultural pollution
People in which coastal region only recently learned to fish?
Rice, corn, wheat and soybean
Too little agricultural pollution
The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World: Journalism professor Amanda Little asks the big questions about the future of food and how we can adapt to avoid mass hunger and starvation in the coming decades. Thought-provoking and unbiased, this book steers clear of preconceived notions and doctrinaire ideas, letting science and solid journalism tell the story: from 3D-printed food to vertical farming.
We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast: We’re not helpless in the face of climate change. There’s much we can do to stop that phenomenon — and even reverse it. It all starts with what we eat, argues Jonathan Safran Foer in this book. Warning: You might think twice about ordering a cheeseburger after reading this book.
Cowspiracy: This hotly debated documentary doesn’t mince words about the meat industry, its global influence — and its impact on our environment. Watch the trailer.
Food, Farming and Climate Change: This podcast features some of the world’s most prominent experts on the subject, who break down what governments and ordinary citizens can do to secure our collective food security in decades to come. Listen here.
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