Coffee, Chocolate, and Rice Are Increasingly Endangered Species

Shellfish and wine could also be in danger—but there are ways to prevent extinction.

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Chocolate bars
Photo: Diyana Dimitrova (Shutterstock)

Climate change is threatening future crops, and some of the losses we’ll experience might be staggering. It’s hard to imagine the world that far ahead into the future, but decades from now, it’s increasingly likely that many global food sources, from indulgent treats to staple crops, will cease to exist.

“A number of foods that we hold very dear to our hearts and largely take for granted are under a real threat,” said former White House chef Sam Kass in a recent interview with People. “And you’re seeing in the future, we’re on track for a lot of those to become quite scarce and some really to be largely unavailable to most people and others just significantly increased in cost.”

Such products include wine, chocolate, coffee, shellfish, and rice, Kass notes. We’ve known for some time that coffee plants are in serious danger due to climate change, but the idea that it might be 100% impossible to obtain within our lifetimes is a less than welcome thought. And of course losing access to rice, a grain that feeds practically everyone on the planet, is virtually unthinkable.

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Rice production in particular releases an estimated 34 million tons of methane per year, released by microbes that grow in the flooded fields where rice is cultivated. It’s an unsustainable practice, to say the least.

So what’s the solution to crop extinction?

Kass suggests that while eating less red meat and including more whole grains and beans into your diet will go a long way, regenerative farming practices are where we should be headed.

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Regenerative farming, also called regenerative agriculture, is a practice you’ll likely hear much more about in the near future. It’s a holistic approach to agriculture that works in tandem with nature instead of against it, meaning that farming plays a role in the overall health of an ecosystem. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation explains regenerative farming using five basic principles:

  • Minimizing soil disturbances, meaning soil isn’t agitated in physical or chemical ways, so as to prevent disruption of natural processes
  • Soil coverage, ensuring that all soil is covered in vegetation or natural ground cover (like mulch)
  • Increased plant diversity to keep the ecosystem varied and healthy
  • Keeping roots established underground, which helps ensure that soil can capture excess water and not lose nutrients or moisture
  • Integrating farm animals into the process, i.e. using manure as fertilizer to help soil stay nutrient dense without chemical/commercial fertilizers
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The hope is that by using these techniques, they become normalized and adopted across agriculture to prepare for the coming decades. Changing the existing agricultural standards is a monumental task, but if our food system can learn to keep crops in tune with nature, we can capture carbon and stay fed in the process.

I sure hope that’s where we’re headed, at least. I love my morning cup of coffee.