Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: How Climate Change Affects Thanksgiving and Your Birthday

In honor of Blog Action Day on climate change, I want to talk about food.

Yes, food. For me, nothing brings back fonder memories than food. I can remember the smell of collard greens cooking for Thanksgiving, my all-time favorite holiday. Then there is the smell of kielbasa sausage on the grill that reminds me of the very first meal my mother & I enjoyed after she bought our first house or the smell of cinnamon which is what that house always smelled like. Sometimes, it’s more of a texture thing like the pleasant denseness of my paternal grandfather’s “brown bread” or the smooth, not chunky, filling of my maternal grandmother’s pecan pie or even the melt-in-your-mouth consistency of the bbq brisket at my wedding.

If you consider it, all celebrations include some sort of food. Birthdays have cake (or in the instance of my husband, pie), Thanksgiving has turkey, Passover has a whole host of traditional foods, Halloween has candy and, in my house, Easter has the Cadbury Egg. Food is not only what sustains us, but also how we show we care (via chicken noodle soup when someone’s not feeling well), we love (via a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day) and we relate to each other (via happy hours with friends or dinner & a movie with dates).

Food also is an integral part of our cultural history. I come from a long line of stubborn Southern women that love to cook, eat and feed others. Part of my identity comes from the very distinctive foods I grew up with and I love sharing that with people. Whether it’s proving to them just how delicious cabbage can be or introducing them to greens, I love to share about where I come from. I similarly love learning about others from food. Whether it’s my coworker sharing the pupusa her grandmother made or my husband making pikliz, it’s all delicious and fascinating. Who said the shortest distance between 2 people was through their stomachs? I’ve always found that to be true. You probably can’t leave my house without some bit of herb, a few spare tomatoes or a handful of dahlias.

So, what is the point I am trying to make? Food is important. More important than we initially realize. It’s how we express ourselves, it’s how we celebrate, it’s part of our identity, and it’s how we stay alive. And this is why climate change’s impact on agriculture (or agriculture’s impact on climate change: it’s responsible for 7% of US greenhouse gas emissions…and we don’t even produce all our own food), indeed our entire food system, is so frightening:

Recent studies indicate that increased frequency of heat stress, droughts and floods negatively affect crop yields and livestock beyond the impacts of mean climate change, creating the possibility for surprises, with impacts that are larger, and occurring earlier, than predicted using changes in mean variables alone. This is especially the case for subsistence sectors at low latitudes. Climate variability and change also modify the risks of fires, pest and pathogen outbreak, negatively affecting food, fiber and forestry. Source: EPA

To be fair, increasing temperatures could lengthen the growing season for many areas of the country. Climate change does have that going for it. It could also make it too warm to grow “traditional” foods in some places, like wine-making grapes in Napa, shorten the growing season for places hampered by hot summers (like my native FL) or increase the chance of severe droughts through soil evaporation.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not up for “the possibility of surprises” when it comes to my food or its domestic production. Even if you firmly believe climate change is nothing more than just a climate cycle, wouldn’t local, organic sourcing of food and/or limiting consumption be a good thing in terms of your wallet, waistline, your local economy and the planet? I mean, it seems like a win-win situation, doesn’t it? And I won’t even get into the issues it would present to the developing world that already struggles with food production and does not have the technology, the money to buy the technology, nor, in many cases, the capacity to produce the technology that will ultimately be needed to cope with what scientists predict lies ahead.

Food is hard to grow. Any gardener can assure you that some years, despite best efforts, something is just going to fail to thrive. Add in a few floods, pathogen outbreaks, and severe droughts and even the most experienced farmer is going to have big issues...and those issues directly impact the food you put in your mouth and its costs. It's just not something I feel humans should leave to chance.

Thus, I encourage you, dear reader, to think about food: How it is apart of your life? What food legacy you want to leave to future generations? Every decision we make has an impact. Make sure your decisions today match your vision of the future.

For more blog action day entries, go to their homepage:

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