h digitalfootprint web 728x90

The Elbert Files: Coffee and wine and beef, oh my


“Our Changing Menu” is a new book by food experts and science writers about how climate change is affecting what we eat and drink.

Coffee is one example. Coffee plants are “sensitive to even a small increase in temperature,” which means that “in parts of Mexico, increasing temperatures could reduce coffee production by over 30 percent, making it unviable” in some areas by the end of this decade, the authors wrote.  

Options include shifting production to higher altitudes or more northern latitudes, but doing so would be expensive and change the economics of the popular beverage.

Although coffee is a more extreme example, the trend is widespread. Everything from olives to cattle, grains and seasonings is affected by changing weather patterns. 

Authors Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr and Dannielle L. Eiseman all have ties to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

There are “no villains in this book,” they wrote in the preface. “Our goal … was to connect food with how the climate is changing it.”

The text is, for the most part, optimistic.

The authors let those directly involved – farmers and food processors – explain what is happening and how they are coping, before expanding to show how changes are affecting human diets. 

For example, they note that while only 12 types of grapes are used in wine production, more than 1,100 varieties of grapes exist, providing a large gene pool to draw on as humans look for new ways to protect popular varieties from drought and pests, two factors that threaten wine production. 

The book is organized around the concept of a single meal with courses that range from cocktails to dessert with backstories that trace the history of various foods and food groups. 

The longest running story involves meat. 

“Meat’s long evolutionary history with humans goes back 2.6 million years,” according to the book, which explains: “The addition of meat to our ancestors’ diet likely helped us develop our large and complex brains and become highly social primates.” 

Nonetheless, too much meat is not good. “In developed countries, consumption of meat – particularly red meat – often exceeds dietary recommendations.” 

“People in the United States eat much more red meat than is considered healthy, while those in other regions around the world are not eating enough red meat. For the health of the people and the planet, a shift to a more plant-based diet in rich countries is highly desirable.”

“Beef,” the book noted, “produces about 50 times more greenhouse gas emissions per standard unit of protein than wheat and six times more than pork.”

The authors explain how cattle are raised and how the greenhouse gases they produce can be decreased by changing the animals’ diets and including trees in grazing pastures.  

Chicken is more environmentally friendly and a healthier source of protein. Modern chickens are an evolutionary wonder, producing “about twice the meat in half the time it took in the 1940s.”

The evolution of food is another theme. 

As the chapter on salads explained: “The word salad comes from the Latin word for salt,” which is how ancient Romans and Greeks seasoned raw vegetables. 

“Green salads were not served until the 18th century and only on upper-class dining tables,” according to the book, which added: “In the U.S. green salads were uncommon and were even perceived to cause illnesses until the 1880s.”

Each meal course in “Our Changing Menu” includes an explanation of how growing conditions are changing for various entrees, and how new weather patterns affect specific plants and animals. 

The changes are not always bad because in some situations increased carbon dioxide can be beneficial. 

Also, our changing weather patterns are far from uniform. 

“In the United States,” the book noted, “winter temperatures have increased twice as fast as summer temperatures, … [and] higher elevations seem to be warming faster than lower elevations.”

“Globally, nighttime temperatures have increased at a rate about 20 percent higher than daytime temperatures since 1900.”

 “Oceans are acidifying and warming.”

All of which create interesting challenges for nutritionists and chefs.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!

snb brd 010123 300x250