Recently I came across an article that I found deeply disturbing on so many levels, and I urge you to read it on your own in its entirety. “The great nutrient collapse” http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511?lo=ap_a1written by Helena Bottemiller Evich is a fairly easy read, but for brevity’s sake, I will summarize: a mathematician, in pursuit of a love of biology, sets about to explore the effect that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have on our plant life. Dr. Loladze found that, not only is there a dearth of research in this area, but also that cross-disciplinary research grant and funding opportunities are hard to come by. Finally he was able to find the evidence to support the hunch he’d had for many years: the increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was making plants grow bigger and faster, but at the expense of using this advantage to store glucose instead of nutrients--vitamins and minerals previously abundant in these plants. The result? Our food source, and the food source for animals and insects we depend on, is becoming “junk food” at approximately the same rate at which carbon dioxide is increasing in our atmosphere.
At the risk of sounding alarmist and setting off all sorts of unwelcome climate change debate, this could ultimately mean an early demise of the human race. Not only have we sabotaged ourselves by limiting the species and varieties of plants, fruits, and vegetables we eat (insert discussion of “heirloom varieties” and “ancient grains” and “Monsanto” here), but we’ve indirectly sabotaged the plants we do use for food to contain a lower level of nutrients and a higher level of glucose. We already have health problems related to too much sugar and processed foods in our diets; how the plants themselves are changing may be contributing to the obesity/diabetes/heart disease epidemic as well. Are we doomed?
Well, my sincere hope is that the success of this recent research will spawn more much-needed research into the area. Of course, navigating the relentless political quagmire into passing regulations that both decrease CO2 emissions and increase consumer information is difficult at best. But is there anything we can do at home to offset this crisis?
Well, we can start by realizing the true, positive impact of eating local products. Even if we are getting a less nutrient-rich product than our great-grandmothers grew in their gardens, we know we are getting a more nutrient-rich product than that sad supermarket head of lettuce that’s been traveling for a week, or that off-season plum from South America. Planting pollinators in our yards instead of grass to encourage those endangered bees to thrive, avoiding harsh chemical pesticides and herbicides, and using homemade compost to enrich the soil can help offset the damage that’s being done in the atmosphere.
Busy bee doing his job in my tomato garden
This is the first post in a series about the cost of food--local and otherwise. Is buying from a market or co-op more expensive than going to your big box store? You bet it is. But what is the ultimate cost to our health, and the health of our children, if we don’t? We can’t solve the problem of carbon dioxide overnight, nor can we fight the powers that be who don’t want to support change through legislation or study with funding, but we can make small changes now to get the best out of our own food sources. We can start small, right here, at our own table.