No matter how you slice it, climate change will change what we eat in the future. Today, just 13 crops provide 80 percent of people’s energy intake worldwide, and about half of our calories come from wheat, corn and rice. However, some of these crops may not grow well at higher temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events caused by climate change. Already, drought, heat waves and torrential floods are damaging crops around the world.
“We need to diversify our food basket,” says Festo Massawe. He is the CEO of Future Food Beacon Malaysia, a group on the campus of the University of Nottingham Malaysia in Semenyih that studies the impact of climate change on food safety.
It goes beyond what we eat to the way we grow it. The trick will be to invest in every possible solution: growing crops to be more climate resistant, genetic engineering food in the lab and studying crops we simply don’t know enough about, says ecologist Samuel Pironon of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London. To feed a growing population in a rapidly changing world, food scientists are exploring many possible paths while thinking about how to be environmentally friendly.
Consumer preferences are also part of the equation. “It has to be the right combination: it looks good, tastes good and is the right price,” says Halley Froehlich, an aquaculture and fisheries scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Here are six foods that could mark all of these boxes and be more prominent on menus and shelves in the future.
Source: Carbohydrates, proteins, minerals (potassium, phosphorus and magnesium)
Benefits: Whole grain; gluten-free flour, pasta, chips, beer
The United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millet (there are several varieties). Quinoa earned the same honor in 2013, and its sales rose sharply. First grown in Asia some 10,000 years ago, millet is a major cereal in parts of Asia and Africa. Compared to wheat, corn, and rice, millet is much more resistant to climate; the crop needs little water and thrives in warmer and drier environments. Some more good news: Millet is one of many ancient grains – including teff, amaranth and sorghum – that are similarly sustainable and resilient (not to mention they can be turned into beer).
2. Bambara peanuts
Source: Proteins, fiber, minerals (potassium, magnesium and iron)
Benefits: Baked or cooked; gluten-free flour; milk without milk
You’ve heard of almond and soy milk. The next alternative in your cafe could be made from peanut bambara, a drought-resistant legume native to sub-Saharan Africa. Like other legumes, bambara peanuts are full of protein. And the bacteria on the plant convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia so peanuts grow well in nutrient-poor soil without chemical fertilizers. A better understanding of the plant, says Festo Massawe of Future Food Beacon Malaysia, could pave the way for cultivation programs that would help bambara peanuts become popular as soy, a legume that yields high yields but is less drought resistant.
Source: Protein, omega-3, vitamin B12, minerals (iron, manganese and zinc)
Benefits: Steamed; it is added to pasta dishes, stews, soups
A delicious mussel linguine could one day become a regular weekly part of the family menu. Mussels and other shellfish, including oysters, mussels and caps, could make up about 40 percent of seafood by 2050, according to a 2020 report. Nature. Without the need for watering or fertilizing, shellfish farms are the main ones to increase, which would lower prices for consumers. All shellfish have merit, but Halley Froehlich of UC Santa Barbara singles out mussels as “super resistant,” “super nutritious,” and unpopular. One downside: shell-forming creatures are endangered because rising carbon levels encourage ocean acidification. Kelp could help.
Source: Vitamins, minerals (iodine, calcium and iron), antioxidants
Benefits: Salads, smoothies, salsa, pickles, noodles and chips; it is also found in toothpaste, shampoos and biofuels
Kelp has some cool climate tricks. First, taking carbon dioxide during photosynthesis can reduce the acidity of your aquatic environment. Farmers in Maine and Alaska grow algae and shellfish together so that shell creatures can benefit from less acidic water. Kelp also sequesters carbon, like underwater trees. This means that growing and eating more kelp could be good for the environment. While algae and other seaweeds have been widely consumed in Asia for thousands of years, they are still an acquired flavor in many western countries.
Source: Carbohydrates, calcium, potassium and zinc
Benefits: Porridge or bread; it is also used to make ropes, slabs and building materials
Drought-resistant enset, grown in Ethiopia, is nicknamed the “fake banana” because the plant resembles a banana tree, although its fruit is inedible. It is also called the “anti-hunger tree” because its starchy stems can be harvested at any time of the year, making it a reliable nutritious crop during dry periods. 2021 Report Letters on environmental research suggests that the range of ensets could be extended to other parts of Africa, and perhaps beyond. The processing needed to make the enset edible is complex, says study author James Borrell of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Therefore, any dissemination should be led by communities that possess this indigenous knowledge.
Source: Carbohydrates, potassium, vitamin C.
Benefits: Whole boiled root; gluten-free flour; tapioca pearls in bubble tea
Cassava, a starchy root vegetable from South America, tests climate resistance, sustainability and nutrition. Now grown in more than 100 countries, cassava can withstand temperatures up to 40 ° C and is resistant to salt and drought. Additional plus: higher atmospheric CO2 levels increase the plant’s resistance to stress and can lead to higher yields. Raw cassava may contain toxic levels of cyanide, but the chemical can be removed by peeling, soaking and cooking the roots.