By Marion M Kyde
Some places are getting hotter; some are getting wetter. Storms are getting wilder and more frequent. Fires, droughts, flash floods, heatwaves – extreme weather conditions damage food crops in every part of the globe. Four-fifths of global caloric intake consists of only 13 widely planted crops, most notably, wheat, corn (maize) and rice. Many of these 13 will not do well under hotter and less predictable weather conditions.
Other important foods will also become scarcer with climate change. Sardine larvae are sensitive to heat and acidity; the oceans are becoming warmer and more acid. Almonds require more water than almost any other crop; water is becoming rare in their prime growing areas. Chickpeas, the primary protein for 20% of the world’s people, is extremely vulnerable to drought as well. Smoke damaged 13% of the wine grapes in California in 2020 – just when COVID caused us to crave more wine.
Cranberries will cook on the vine with too much heat in the bogs. Peaches require a specific number of chilling hours to set fruit – hotter nights mean fewer peaches. Direst news of all, coffee is sensitive to both heat and humidity, both of which favor coffee rust. By 2050, we will have 50% of the land suitable for growing coffee to heat and intense rain events. Who can face a future when dinner can no longer end with peach pie and coffee?
If not wheat, corn and rice, and the farmed animals that also depend on them, what will we be eating in 2050?
Whatever the plants or animals, they must be climate resistant, versatile, sustainable and, of course, tasty. A few foods stand out as the edibles of 2050. Millet is an ancient grain that needs little water and thrives in the heat. Groundnuts, African legumes, grow in poor soil with no added chemical fertilizer, are more drought tolerant than soybeans, and high in protein. Cassava, a starch from South America, can withstand high temperatures, high soil salinity, and drought. It also responds favorably to higher CO2 levels. What’s not to like about a plant that’s resilient, sustainable, and nutritious? Well, it does contain toxic levels of cyanide, but soaking and cooking will remove the poison, and selective breeding might make its consumption a little less adventurous.
Sea vegetables. We will surely have to eat more sea greens, both macro and micro algae. These are sustainable, tolerant to changes in light and pH levels, salinity, and water temperature. Plus, they are loaded with protein, vitamins, and amino acids. By removing carbon dioxide from the water around them, they can lower its acidity, which will benefit the next foods of the future…
… Which are mussels and other bivalves. These animals can be sustainably farmed, along with kelp, which removes the acidity that prevents them from forming their protective shells One estimate has mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops making up 40% of our seafood by 2050.
One final group of animals will have to become a more important part of our daily diets – insects. Already eaten in many parts of the world, locusts, crickets, ants, and maggots are high in protein and macronutrients. They take up less space than cows and pigs, produce little methane gas, and leave no unused residue to be sluiced out into our waterways. Their water requirements are miniscule, and higher temperatures do not bother them.
Bugs will definitely be on our plates by 2050 – maybe as ingredients in our carbonara mussels, or as croutons on our kelp and groundnut salad, rinsed down with that old Girl Scout favorite – bug juice. Bon appétit!
Marion M Kyde Ph.D. is a mycologist who lives in Tinicum Township.