climate change threatened foods
Pexels from Pixabay

Peter Dykstra: A foodie tastes climate change

Some samples of where food is going… or gone.

Pity the poor climate reporter. Tasked to write about the costly future and gloomy topic of climate change, we often turn to food to try to relieve our misery. But in our case, that means writing about it, not eating it.


This past week, I distinctly heard the sound of a butter knife clinking against the bottom of a four-ounce jar.

Dijon mustard had joined the list of edible climate victims.

NPR sent its veteran Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley to the Bordeaux region. Not to report on the threat to Bordeaux wine, mind you, but on the region’s Dijon mustard. It turns out that genuine Dijon requires mustard seeds from Canada, and last year’s brutal, record-setting “heat dome” ruined the hot mustard crop.

And there’s more concern at the other end of the condiment aisle.

Olive output has suffered in recent years as more frequent winter waves of warm and chilly Mediterranean weather impact the trees’ flowering and fruiting. And as olives go, so goes olive oil.

And with our olive oil, so goes tomato sauce for pizza and pasta. About thirty percent of the world’s canned tomato crop comes from California’s Central Valley, where near-catastrophic drought threatens not a bad year, but a bad forever in one of the world’s key food-producing zones.

So, if Marie Antoinette were around to witness this, would she offer a tomato sauce workaround? Maybe, “Let them eat white clam sauce?”

Well... even for those of us who can stand white clam sauce, clams and other mollusks are vulnerable to the oceans’ rising levels of acidification.

And then there’s the wheat flour that’s turned into traditional pasta. Breadbaskets like Ukraine and the U.S. heartland are increasingly subject to drought, and nutritionists predict that rising CO2 levels could rob wheat, rice and other grains of nutrients.

As early as 2011, a study predicted problems for all manner of fruits and nuts grown throughout the world’s temperate regions. Pistachios, walnuts, cherries and peaches are among the crops that need warm summers and chilly, but not frigid winters to prosper. Warming winter temps may be a problem from Israel to Georgia.

So let’s take a break

Enough about our food for now. Let’s have a drink to relax. Are you a wine person? Well, get some Bordeaux while you can. It’s expected that the world’s prime grape-growing regions may shift with the climate.

Beer? Subtle changes in hops, barley –the yeast that turns sugar into alcohol– and other brewing essentials may not kill your favorite microbrew, but we have no idea how it will taste.

And if you prefer to inhale your escape, the folks at www.mjbizdaily.com have some news for you. The publication, which seems to regard itself as the Wall Street Journal of weed, projects marijuana growers as following the vineyards’ paths on the where cannabis will struggle, and the new places where it could thrive.

The 800-pound steer in the room

Liam Ortiz from Pixabay

Of course, our current diet is a big factor in the climate crisis. Beef, pork and chicken, all raised factory-farming style, greatly contribute to methane release and other air-pollution issues. In regions where cattle are still raised on pasture, they are to blame for the clearing of tropical rainforests, like the Amazon, wiping out one of the world's great carbon sinks.

I could lose five pounds just writing down why I’m a climate-writing, meat-eating, climate-destroying hypocrite.

Prefer seafood? Sensitive to water temperatures, forage fish like sardines and anchovies are de-camping for warmer waters. On the North American East Coast, lobsters are deserting the southern New England coast for the cooler waters of Maine. But lobstermen worry that the crustaceans are merely biding their time to dodge the thermal draft and eventually will head to Canadian waters.

For their part, North Carolina fishermen, rigged and experienced to capture summer flounder, have to chase their target hundreds of miles up the coast to New Jersey.

So some of our food is leaving us. Other food is running and hiding.

Thanks, climate change!

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

What Lego—yes, Lego—can teach us about avoiding energy project boondoggles

A new book looks at why big projects fail and finds that solar, wind and transmission lines are some of the best kinds of big projects, while nuclear power is among the worst.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Minnesota's carbon-free electricity bill: 8 questions, answered

A bill speeding through the Legislature would require utilities to quicken their transition to cleaner energy. But it includes exemptions and ways they could meet the standard without ditching fossil fuels altogether.

Auckland: New Zealand’s largest city sees wettest month in its history after ‘unparalleled deluge’

Auckland has recorded the wettest month in its history, New Zealand’s climate science body said after the city was pounded by record-breaking rainfall.

Wet winter won’t fix Colorado River woes

Although the moisture is welcome, some experts worry it could further delay the hard work that managers of the watershed must do to keep it healthy and make its service more inclusive as the climate grows hotter and more parched.

The threat of ocean acidification

This film explores the alarming effects of ocean acidification, drawing on the expertise of scientists and the first-hand experiences of a Native Alaskan community. The film also looks at what can be done to lessen the problem.

From our Newsroom
oil and gas wells pollution

What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

Diversified Energy’s liabilities exceed its assets, according to a new report, sparking concerns about whether taxpayers will wind up paying to plug its 70,000 wells.

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

oil and gas california environmental justice

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.

popular stories 2022

Our 5 most popular reads from 2022

A corpse, woodworking dangers, plastic titans ... revisit the stories that stuck with our readers this past year.

Pittsburgh environmental

What I learned reporting on environmental health in Pittsburgh in 2022

For a lot of people, 2022 felt like the first “normal” year since 2020. It didn’t for me.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.