Climate Corner: Climate change – as American as apple pie?
Nov 26, 2022
Linda Eve Seth
“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” — Jane Austen
What does Climate Change have to do with apple pie?
I am sitting in my kitchen as I write this column, when I should be prepping for holiday meals. My mind wanders and my hands still as I contemplate the impact of Climate Change on our food supply. I think about apple pie; that most American of desserts is just one example of a multi-ingredient delicacy that will become harder to produce in a climate-ravaged future.
While the trees seem to do all the work producing our favorite fall fruit, their sweet flavor can become impacted by changes in weather and climate. Consider these facts: Although apples are hardy, big temperature extremes can be detrimental to orchard crops, as can severe storm elements. Above-average rainfall can cause both good and bad impacts on apples. Dry weather yields smaller and sweeter tasting apples. Environmental impacts like climate change, wildfire smoke and pollution are additional challenges for farmers.
While it is possible to grow apples in warmer climates, apples grow best in regions where the temperature rarely increases above 90 degrees. Warmer-than-normal temperatures can cause an early bloom that leads to changes in apple firmness and acid concentration levels. Too much heat and sun can actually “sunburn” apples. Excessive heat can alter an apple’s color, leaving it pink or brown instead of red. A softer fruit may result from a number of high heat degree days. Rather than crisp and juicy, the apple may take on a mushy or mealy texture.
Besides the fruit, several of the ingredients for that most detectable dessert, apple pie, are impacted by Climate Change, including white sugar, brown sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla.
Studies show that both sugar cane and flour production will be affected by warming temperatures. At first sugar cane production may (temporarily) begin to increase as some areas warm and the range of the sugar crop is extended, allowing the sugar cane to grow in new regions and for extended seasons. Ultimately, however, it is thought that production could drop as much as 60% in the long run.
It is predicted that wheat production may actually increase over time, but that will involve moving wheat agriculture from the American mid-west to Europe, Asia, and South America.
Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are grown in specific tropical locations, making them particularly susceptible to changing weather conditions. Nutmeg trees, for example, have very shallow roots. This can be troublesome when combined with the fact that increased hurricane frequency and intensity have already begun to damage existing nutmeg farms and processing plants.
Madagascar and Sri Lanka both have economies that are very dependent on vanilla and cinnamon (respectively) which means their economies would be devastated by large decreases in production. Both of these island nations are likely facing increased droughts, wildfires, and higher risks of flooding due to rising sea levels and tsunamis, all of which would threaten their food security and agricultural productivity.
People working in the food industry in this country and across the world are trying to come up with solutions that prioritize crop resilience and adaptability. For example, methods are being developed to address specific vulnerabilities in nutmeg farms, and alternatives are being developed for crops which are so threatened, like vanilla and cinnamon.
As seasons lose their familiar distinguishing characteristics due to shifting climatic patterns, traditional markers for their arrival will do the same. New leaves and dogwood trees in the spring, watermelons, peaches, and corn in the summer, apples, pumpkins, and brilliant colors in the fall, snowmen in the winter… all of these things may be a thing of the past by the year 2050. Apple pie is, of course, just one handy example of a favorite food that may become a victim of Climate Change.
For now, in 2022, enjoy the holiday feast. Indulge in at least one piece of pie, and remember to appreciate all we have … while we still have it. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
Until next time, be kind to your Mother Earth.
Linda Eve Seth, SLP, M.Ed. is a mother, grandmother, concerned citizen, and member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.