From oatmeal to oysters, the world’s food supply is being drastically altered by rising temperatures and extreme weather. As the planet heats up, it’s affecting many of the foods we love – when and where they’re grown, how they get to the grocery store and how much we pay for them.
This changing agricultural landscape calls for adaptive measures from large food producers like Mars. The family-owned company makes not just the M&Ms, Twix and Snickers bars we love, but also pet foods like Pedigree and Iams and people foods such as Uncle Ben’s Rice.
“We source thousands of ingredients from over eighty countries around the world,” says Ashley Allen, Senior Manager of Climate and Land for Mars. “And that really is a large value chain that’s exposed to climate change in a lot of different contacts, in a lot of different countries.
“So thinking about sustainability and issues like climate change is really in our DNA,” she continues. “Everything we do now is going to be really focused on helping farmers increase their productivity, looking at places where things are grown most efficiently and effectively and focusing there.”
Jason Clay, who monitors global food markets for the World Wildlife Fund, paints a picture of climate impact on the world’s food supply.
“The impact of climate change on disease in West Africa has caused about a third of production to go down by ninety percent,” he reports.
Changes are being seen in the Midwestern U.S. as well, with many of the crops moving north towards Canada.
“We won't be producing spring wheat in the U.S. within thirty years,” Clay continues. “The Corn Belt will be in Canada within eighty years.”
The World Wildlife Fund is concerned with ways to produce more food with less environmental impact. But, Clay adds, there’s another piece to the puzzle: eliminating food waste. In the U.S., he says, most of the waste generated is on the consumer side.
“It’s portion size, it’s what you throw out of your refrigerators, it’s what restaurants throw away, it’s what buffets throw away at the end of the day,” says Clay.
“So we’ve gotta figure out how to reduce waste of every different product all over the planet. Because that's probably the easiest strategy to get enough food that we need by 2050.”
Annie Cull is with the Good Food Institute, which advocates for plant-based alternatives to meat, for both health and environmental reasons.
“But at the end of the day, people want to make their food choices based on the same drivers that people have wanted for generations,” she says. “What tastes good, what’s affordable, what’s convenient, how much time do I have to spend in the kitchen.”
Cull says that rethinking our diets can go a long way towards improving not only our own health, but the planet’s health as well. One place to start, she says, is with hamburgers – which Americans consume to the tune of 10 billion annually.
“If we could replace just thirty percent of a beef patty with mushrooms, it’s the equivalent of 2.3 million cars off the road,” she says, citing a report from the World Resources Institute. “It's the water usage of 2.6 million Americans, and it's bringing land back into new uses about the size of Maryland.”
In the second part of the program, Greg Dalton spoke with restaurateur Karen Liebowitz. She and her husband own Perennial, a sustainably run restaurant in San Francisco, and encourage other restaurants to adopt planet-friendly practices.
One method of reducing waste, says Liebowitz, is to practice “closed-loop” cooking – using every kitchen scrap possible, from potato skins to fish bones.
“We feed those to worms and larvae at our greenhouse and they take the energy in the food and become food for fish. And we feed the fish, and the fish fertilize the water,” she says. The water is then used to grow herbs and vegetables, bringing the process full circle.
“What we're really trying to do,” says Liebowitz, “is promote the idea that food can be part of the climate solution.”