Pop Quiz: lettuce, avocados, rice, vanilla, and cocoa – what do these foods have in common? (Answer: they are all impacted by climate change).
Recent news reports have placed a spotlight on global supply shortages for a variety of foods; among them are lettuce, avocados, rice, vanilla, and cocoa. This is worrying as these are all common foods used to make, for instance: salads, guacamole, pilaf, ice cream, and chocolate. Thus, a shortage in one food item has a consequence on all foods that use it as an ingredient. So, how exactly is climate change impacting the production of such common household foods? More importantly, what are the consequences of such food shortages beyond the limited availability of certain food items?
First, let’s discuss the how. Such shortages are largely the result of changing weather patterns. As climate change continues to drastically alter our environments, the ecosystems in which crops grow and flourish will wither over time. Without putting any necessary interventions in place, climate change will lead to more food supply shortages than yields.
Now let’s consider the above examples.
The iceberg lettuce shortage stemming from Southwestern United States is due to an earlier than normal arrival of warm weather and heavier than normal rainfall. Avocado supplies have also been effected by warmer weather and more so by drought in both California and Mexico. In some regions, rice and cocoa crops have similarly been effected by drought, but also by excessive rainfall in other regions. With regards to vanilla, 80% of the global supply is grown in Madagascar, where torrential weather (a cyclone) has destroyed 70% of the vanilla crops – an incidence that may increase in frequency due to changing storm patterns.
Concerns over crops failing due to the detrimental effects of climate change are widespread. Such shortages have far reaching consequences, among which price increases will be one. Due to a decreased and limited supply of certain food items, high demand will lead to an increase in food prices. As a result, such an increase could have potentially devastating consequences for many people around the globe – especially those who live in extreme poverty.
Many households, especially low-income households, will face greater burdens in accessing affordable foods. Some may have to ration their grocery budgets and cut out unessential food items, while others may be forced to consume cheaper, but more unhealthy foods. Still, others may also starve if they are unable to keep up with the rising costs of food. Over time, this may increase inequalities by creating food insecurity for many households around the world.
Adding to the stresses of climate change is a dwindling of our global natural resources and an exponentially increasing global population. With less fertile land to grow and harvest our food, more mouths to feed, and major changes altering our climate and weather patterns, it is imperative that we invest in sustainable solutions by working to limit the effects of climate change on our food systems and promoting smart policy decisions. Overall, food security is a major social determinant of health. Without access to an adequate food supply that is filled with health and nutritious food options, many people are made to unfairly suffer poor health outcomes.