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    November 26, 2014 | 11:46 AM

    Nine Holiday Foods Threatened by Climate Change

    When you think about the November and December holidays, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re over the age of eight – or in truly present-obsessed cases, 18 – we’re guessing it’s food. It’s one of the rare universals that – no matter what culture, no matter what country – when it’s time to celebrate, it’s time to eat together.

    But just what we can put on our plates when we eat together is changing, thanks to climate change. So what will that holiday feast look like in 2100? Much of it depends on how quickly and seriously we act to cut carbon pollution today. Here’s why.


    Scientists believe cocoa production in the West African nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast—responsible for more than half of the world’s crop—could decline as temperatures warm, meaning we could have a potential cocoa shortage on our hands as soon as 2020. And while we’ve all made New Year’s resolutions to eat less chocolate, this isn’t the reason we had in mind.

    Maple Syrup

    We’re going to be honest: treats like pumpkin pie are a big reason we look forward to the holidays. But with climate change taking a toll on the maple syrup that goes into so many of these dishes, the holiday season could become a lot less sweet. In New Hampshire, for example, scientists have observed that the sap from maple trees that forms the base of the syrup has become less sweet in recent years. One reason? The syrup-producing season (fall and winter) is getting shorter and the growing season (summer and spring) getting longer – and it’s hard not to be sad saps about the change.


    The cranberry is no fan of extreme weather. Frosts and floods can cut yields, and heat waves can cause an unpleasant rot. With temperatures on the rise – 2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record – cranberry-growers are facing an uncertain future. We’ve already seen what could happen back in 2012, when an early spring and extreme heat meant cranberry production in Massachusetts dropped 23 million pounds in one year alone, enough to leave a bitter taste in the mouth.


    Not everyone wants to go gluten-free these days. Especially as scientists project that warming temperatures mean yields of staple crops like wheat, corn, and rice will decline. Which is bad news for food-insecure nations that depend on them. More troubling still is that some hotter areas like Sub-Saharan Africa may have trouble growing these crops at all as production shifts to cooler climates.


    From mashed to roasted, latkes to lefse, nothing beats a hot potato during the holidays. But while these tubers are still growing in the ground, heat makes the spuds shrivel. As temperatures in potato-growing regions rise and rains become less reliable, farmers are trying to adapt to keep their harvests safe. But unless they can develop a heat-resistant variety, potato farmers will face a difficult time growing their crops and face tough choices about moving their farms.


    Your typical pumpkin thrives with ample water and cool autumn temperatures. But with this year’s record drought in California, one of the United States’ biggest pumpkin producers, farmers struggled to get their harvest ready for the season. On the other hand, too much water (in the form of floods) also spells bad news for pumpkins, as we saw in the 2009 shortage, squashing hopes for holiday pies.


    As if being associated with duds and losers everywhere wasn’t bad enough, turkeys face a worrisome future as heat waves and hotter temperatures become increasingly common. In one case, studies on broiler hens found that “a poultry house put under a future climate change scenario exceeded critical temperature on 30 percent more occasions despite a 10 percent increase in ventilation.”  And when the temps rise, turkeys don’t grow as big and could even die from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.


    Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
    Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

    Warmer temperatures into the fall and winter could leave Jack Frost nipping at fewer noses, or at least less often than we’re used to. Some may welcome the news, but not the chestnut, which benefits from fall and winter chills. This year, warm temperatures caused crop yields to drop 60 percent in Malaga, Spain. The result is that farmers may need to move orchards further and further north to protect future harvests. Which is just plain nuts.


    We can’t butter this one up: heat stress from warmer temperatures can put a real strain on milk production. Add in greater threats of less water thanks to more frequent droughts and you’ve got some seriously moo-dy cows producing less milk than they used to. Less milk means less butter to make your holiday cookies and baked goods taste delicious, a decidedly unhealthy situation.

    With the climate changing, there’s more to be concerned about this holiday season than a visit with the in-laws – but the thing is, we can do something about it today. We don’t have to accept a future where our favorite foods are just too expensive or too hard to grow anymore.

    Pledge a day to make a difference now, and together we can protect the foods – and plants, and animals, and people – we hold dear during the holidays and the months beyond. And that’s reason for serious holiday cheer.


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