If you believe in thermometers, you should believe in global warming. And if you believe in eating fries with your burger, you should worry more about carbon emissions.
It won't happen overnight, but as the planet's climate changes, the growth cycles of staple crops will all by heavily affected such that even a minor worldwide increase could wreak havoc on your ability to get fries with that. To learn more, we consulted Gerald C. Nelson, Professor Emeritus at University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) with a background in climate change and agriculture. Here are five of the crops that might not beat the heat, and what their loss will mean to your diet.
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Affected regions: India in particular, but basically everywhere What we'd lose: French fries, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, any side dish that goes with beef, aloo masala, joy It may seem like French fries are grown by pimply teenagers, but the potato actually needs a great deal of beauty rest to develop properly. "They need a cool nighttime temperature in order to start growing the tuber, the part that we eat," Nelson says. One area that he cites specifically is the Himalayan foothills in India, so the sequel to the Irish Potato Famine might just star the kid from Slumdog Millionaire.
Affected regions: Latin America (Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala) What we'd lose: Lattes, bottomless Wi-Fi, flirty baristas Temperature and elevation are two primary concerns in coffee growth, and farmers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. "We know that coffee grows in a certain temperature range," Nelson says. "They've been moving up the mountains, but at some point you run out of mountains to move up." Higher-grade strains of Arabica coffee in Central American regions are at particular risk due to the need for lower growing temps, especially since disease and pests also becoming more of a factor as temperatures rise.
Affected regions: The United States and Japan What we'd lose: Crispy, crunchy apples "Apples need a period of vernalization in the wintertime. If you shorten the cold period, you'll have more issues with tree crops like apples or cherries," Nelson says. The quantity will suffer as a result, but a Japanese study has shown that the quality has slowly been deteriorating, such that apples over the past 40 years have grown substantially softer and sweeter, unlike just about everything else in our culture.
Affected regions: The US, Canada, China, India, Russia, and Australia What we'd lose: Macaroni, spaghetti, rigatoni! Fughetaboutit!! In true professorial fashion, Nelson sent over some homework prior to our chat. The End of Pasta is required reading for conservationists and red-sauce lovers alike, and lays out a litany of problems that global warming will have on the domestic and international durum wheat crops, which are specifically used in dry pasta production. A 1-degree change over the past 50 years has already sparked a 5.5% decline in crop yield, with a 25% drop expected in particularly hot years come 2050. Uh oh, SpaghettiOs indeed.
Affected regions: All major rice-growing regions What we'd lose: Chinese lunch combo meals, Rice-A-Roni, most of the world's main daily starch Even if you're looking at the direct effects of temperature alone, rice is in trouble. "As nighttime temperatures go up, the rice is going to have a problem flowering and won't make as many seeds," Nelson says. In addition to this direct heat consequence, rising sea levels will flood many rice paddies and disrupt water salinity levels, while droughts will lower production, raise prices, and further shame Westerners who are too clumsy with chopsticks to be able to clear their plates once a new grain is adopted.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He isn't going to argue about climate change in the comments, so don't even try. Follow him to a clear scientific consensus at @Dannosphere.