Climate Change Is Threatening Everything You Love (To Eat and Drink)

By Bethany Ivie

Last Updated: February 14, 2019

Climate Change Is Threatening Everything You Love (To Eat and Drink)

At this point, we all know climate change is bad news. From the recent polar vortex that plunged areas of the American Midwest into temperatures well below those in Antartica to the continued increase of global natural disasters, climate change is making itself known. Many of us who live in developed nations have had the luxury of viewing climate change as a problem that doesn't really  affect us. Brace yourself, fellow privileged people, because that’s about to change. Climate change is here to take away everything you love. 

Image via Unsplash.

French Fries

According to The Guardian, chips in the UK are half an inch shorter than they used to be. OK. Cool. No big deal, right? After all, couldn't we all benefit from shorter french fries? 

That might be true if this trim down wasn't the result of a poor potato harvest caused by an unseasonable heat wave. A heat wave made 30 times more likely because of climate change. And that's not all: if harvests don't improve, we could be paying higher prices for this starchy staple in the future.

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Don't worry, fellow millennials, I'm putting the avocado-toast joke down and walking away. Because, quite frankly, things aren't looking good for our favorite, savory fruit. Avocado trees need stable temperatures between 28 F and 100 F to thrive and, if temperatures continue to fluctuate unpredictably, harvests will continue to be poor and our delicious breakfast staple could be toast. 

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Save Coffee, Support Small-Scale Farmers

Heifer International works with small-scale coffee farmers in places like Honduras, Guatemala and Ecuador to combat la roya, increase harvests and ensure that coffee producers earn a living wage. Donate today to support small-scale farmers producing coffee and other important crops around the world. 

Those of you who say things like "don't talk to me if I haven't had my coffee" may be in for a life of surly solitude if climate change has its way. 

Our warming planet is making coffee more difficult to grow in traditional coffee-producing regions as well as putting many different types of wild coffee at risk of extinction. Additionally, rising temperatures have caused spikes in la roya, or coffee rust, an invasive fungus that renders coffee plants inedible and harvests poor.

And, unfortunately, if coffee goes the way of the dodo (heaven forbid), we won't be able to turn to tea to get our caffeine fix. Tea, a crop notoriously sensitive to climate, is suffering, too.

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And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

Many of the varieties of grapes used to make popular wines like pinot grigio and prosecco can't stomach the heat. In fact, as few as five years ago, vineyard owners in certain parts of Italy began to notice a problem with their crops: their grapes were getting sunburned. Sunburned grapes can't be used for wine. 

This and a host of other weather-related challenges means that many winemakers are scrambling to find new varieties of grape that are hardier. Many vineyards who have soldiered on with their existing grapes are finding that their crops are ripening faster, forcing growers to harvest earlier and, therefore, producing a lower quality beverage. Regardless, this means that, while wine's not going away, your favorite vintage just might taste different than you remember. 

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This is the point where things became too much for me, personally, and I raised my hands to the heavens saying, "What have we done?!" 

[T]here is definitely a cross-cultural appeal to beer ... and not having a cool pint at the end of an increasingly common hot day just adds insult to injury. Steven Davis, Scientist at University of California, Irvine to Smithsonian Magazine

Beer is one of the oldest and most popular beverages in the world and is typically made using malted barley as one of its main ingredients. Barley is a crop that is notoriously sensitive to both extreme heat and drought. The effects of climate change, as you know, include increased instances of extreme heat AND drought. Do you see where I'm going here? If things continue as they are, beer is in trouble. Not only is there a good chance that supplies of the beverage will run low, there's a near-guarantee that prices are likely to double in many parts of the world.

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Since cacao traditionally grows in warm regions, heat isn't too big a problem for chocolate ... if that heat is paired with plentiful water and a humid climate. However, scientists predict that the rainfall in chocolate-producing countries like Ghana and the Côte d'Ivoire won't increase proportionately to rising temperatures. 

Image via Cathy Guisewite

Since the two aforementioned West African nations are responsible for producing 50 percent of the world's chocolate supply, I suggest that you stock up on your favorite treats while you can. In the future, prices are going to skyrocket.  

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If you're thinking about skipping the aforementioned foods in lieu of a healthy salad, I have bad news for you. Lettuce isn't doing so great. In 2017, the U.S. experienced a lettuce shortage when producers in Yuma, Arizona (the country's top provider of winter greens), were forced to harvest their crops early due to unnaturally high temperatures. 

Additionally, the United States has experienced increased incidents of dangerous bacteria like salmonella and E.coli in romaine lettuce, spinach and other greens. While, initially, experts viewed these as isolated incidents caused by contaminated water, they're now investigating whether the bacteria outbreaks were caused by corresponding episodes of freak weather.

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Apples, along with other orchard fruits like cherries, peaches, apricots and pears all require a period of time when they're exposed to temperatures below 45 F. Referred to as "chilling hours," this time is essential for the trees to flower in the spring and produce fruit. Without the chilling hours, trees produce a low volume and quality of fruit. 

Changes in temperature can also affect fruit's appearance, size and taste and, ultimately, render them less valuable to farmers trying to sell them. 

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Peanut Butter

Would you like a nice jelly sandwich? That's good, because, unfortunately, the future of the peanut (and therefore peanut butter) is looking a bit rocky. Peanuts know what they like, and they like five solid months of consistently warm weather and 20 inches - 40 inches of rain. Without both of these ingredients, the vines won't survive much less produce pods. 

In 2011, we got a taste of the potential future when peanut plants shriveled and died on the vine due to an unexpected heatwave. As a result, U.S. producers lost hundreds of thousands of pounds of the crop.

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Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a pancake's best friend. Or, maybe, if you're one of those people who prefer to drizzle that sweet, sappy goodness into each individual divet of your Eggo, a waffle. I'm not here to argue with you. 

Like most of the foods on this list, the future of maple syrup doesn't bode well. In order for a maple tree's sap (unrefined syrup) to flow, temperatures must drop below freezing at night and climb back above freezing during the day. As global temperatures continue to rise, sugaring season grows shorter and shorter for maple syrup producers. Where sap was once gathered in March, now harvesters start in January and have less time before sap stops flowing. 

Producers have also noticed that, when temperatures are abnormally warm as they have been, the sap their trees provide makes syrup that isn't as sweet as it once was

Since maple trees do best in cold climes, habitat loss is another factor that puts the future of maple syrup at risk. Older trees can survive warm climates, though they don't produce much sap. Seedlings, however, struggle to reach maturity meaning that, while older trees will survive, there will be few young trees to take their place and, ultimately a lot less maple syrup for us to enjoy.