Monday, October 31, 2022

In My Kitchen and in the World

Global food insecurity from "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World"
Published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2022.

In all the kitchens of the world, cooks are worried about food scarcity, higher prices, and short supplies of favorites, and even of necessities. Food insecurity is increasing, on a global scale. One reason is deteriorating conditions for growing crops in many places. Climate change is accelerating food supply problems and cooperation  among nations to take effective measures against the warming planet are not going well. Here’s the unfortunate and inconvenient fact:

"With each fraction of a degree of warming, tens of millions more people worldwide would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water scarcity, and coastal flooding while millions more mammals, insects, birds and plants would disappear." (New York Times, October 26,2022)

Declining food production is already occurring in some places, and hunger — even starvation — is already widespread in some parts of the world. Besides climate change, the war in Ukraine has caused higher prices of grains and cooking oil. Though not as disastrous as was first expected, the situation is volatile. The impact of the war on global food supplies and prices is very important and also complicated. I have not addressed it in this post: the issue needs much more space and attention than what I have written here.

Thinking about people around the world and their problems obtaining healthy food, or in fact any food, is often on my mind. I’m also thinking about how current issues are directly affecting my kitchen and kitchens like mine. For this blog post, admittedly centered on the American kitchen of the moment, I’ve chosen just a few examples of foods in my kitchen that almost everyone in the US depends on, but that are affected by the variables of a warming planet. I definitely know that I’m privileged, but these details are part of a big picture of the state of the whole world’s kitchens. 

Processed Tomato Products

From my pantry: this can of tomato sauce says “Organic California Roma Tomatoes.” Ninety- five percent of processed tomatoes for US consumption are grown in California. Pizza sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, catsup…we Americans depend on these products for many of our favorite dishes.

In 2022 the tomato harvest is coming in much smaller than usual, as “rising interest rates, inflation, and the crushing drought squeezed farmers who saw their margins sliced and diced. While the cost of growing tomatoes continues to rise, it’s ultimately hitting consumers in the wallet as well.”

The drought has vastly decreased the farmers’ access to irrigation water, and many farmers had to leave their fields standing fallow. Some farmers weren’t even able to plant any crops at all, and others have switched from tomatoes to less water-intensive produce.  (CNN, October 17, 2022)

Prices will go up, even if imported produce can replace some of the US farm products. Unfortunately, this is not solely due to inflation, but to actual reduction in supplies of food.

Fresh Vegetables

While California produces most tomatoes for canning, Florida is a major producer of fresh tomatoes and also other vegetables such as the green onions in my photo. Green onions, which normally come from Florida, were hard to find here for a while, and the ones in the photo are from California. However, there are problems with harvests, planting, rain (too little or too much), and many other aspects of the farms where many such vegetables grow. 

The tomatoes in the photo were grown in Ontario, Canada, which is a local supplier in our area (it’s only around 70 miles from here to the tomato-growing farms and greenhouses along Lake Erie). Florida is also a major fresh tomato growing area: from October to June, Florida supplies over half the fresh tomatoes for the US. At other times, we rely on the declining capabilities of California agriculture. Again, a climate issue is disrupting supplies:

“Because Hurricane Ian made landfall three weeks later than Irma, almost all of southwest Florida’s tomato seedlings were planted when the storm arrived, meaning that many acres will need to be replanted after basic services are restored in Lee and Charlotte Counties, counties hit hard by Ian.” (source)

Far more food supplies than tomatoes and green onions have been disrupted by the hurricane. Farms in Florida produce citrus fruit, field crops, and  also raise cattle and produce honey. “Across Florida, Hurricane Ian trampled through about 4 million acres of farmland, according to the latest figures from the Agriculture Department for the affected counties.” (source)

More from my refrigerator: cucumbers from Canada; lettuce, celery, and carrots from California, 
and fresh ginger from an unnamed source.

California has a different set of problems with the many vegetables it supplies to American consumers, including lettuce, broccoli, and more. In fact, California provides Americans with  the majority of their almonds, artichokes, celery, figs, garlic, grapes, raisins and quite.a few other fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Most of these have also become more expensive recently, for a variety of reasons. For example, the California lettuce crop is in trouble, as heat waves intensify problems from plant diseases. As of earlier in October the situation was this:

“For three years, Central Valley lettuce and leafy greens growers have battled Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV), which is a plant pathogenic virus. Hot weather three weeks ago really activated INSV damage. But the influence of the disease begins with the outset of summer. In mid-October, yields were down as much as 50% below full production … ‘the industry is reaching some peak pricing.’” (source)

Many other countries and other parts of the US beyond California and Florida are growers of agricultural products, and their supplies are not necessarily as troubled as these major producers. But even if alternate agricultural areas can offer more produce to be imported to the US and supplied to other countries, many issues of international supply, demand, and rising price are looming ahead of the planet. 

I’ve only discussed the issues for well-off consumers in the US, but for poor people and for countries that don’t have the resources of the US and Europe the increase in prices and the decline in supplies have even worse consequences. Don’t misunderstand: I know that people in my situation have more choices and are more fortunate. 

Sriracha Hot Sauces

Last summer, Huy Fong foods, California maker of the famous Sriracha hot sauce, was “forced to suspend production of its iconic spicy sauces — Sriracha, Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek — due to a lack of chili peppers.” (source)

An unprecedented crop failure last spring of the chiles that are grown in California and Mexico just for Huy Fong was the cause of the interruption in production: another consequence of the widespread drought. Another non-climate factor: a large judgement against the company in a lawsuit brought by the chili grower in California also may have had some impact on the corporation.

In the photo, in my kitchen, you can see my supplies of Sriracha hot sauce and chili garlic sauce. I just purchased the new jar of chili-garlic sauce last week. The Korean and Indian specialty shops where I shopped seemed to have ample supplies of the product in several sizes. I’m not sure of the details, but I think that supplies of Sriracha products, which were scarce over the summer, have now returned to normal. Still, this drought-related interruption in supply is another example of the way that food supplies in our time are unpredictable.

Orange Juice: No More “Florida’s Natural”

“Florida’s Natural” Labels:
(photos are from supermarket websites)
Let's talk about orange juice. Until recently, the juice you would find in my kitchen was often from the growers' coop "Florida's Natural." Not any more! 

Look carefully at the old label on the left and the new one on the right. I've always avoided packaged juice that is reconstituted from concentrate; the quality is just not the same. I’ve found other brands are still not from concentrate, and I hope that will continue.

The sad fact is that production of oranges in Florida’s citrus groves is no longer adequate to supply American OJ-drinking habits. Diseases of the trees, insect pests, and disastrous weather events have devastated the citrus crops for several years. After decades of emphasizing that all their juice was grown in Florida, the Florida’s Natural growers now explain 

"Unfortunately, the Florida orange crop has been declining for decades while our fans continue to buy more and more Florida's Natural orange juice. The Florida orange crop can no longer meet our consumer demand, so we are adding in only the best Mexican Valencia orange juice."

Besides all the other problems, hurricane Ian resulted in a total loss of this year’s crop for many citrus farmers in its path, and up to 30% of their trees may be lost. “Even before the storm, the USDA had predicted the Florida orange crop would be down by a third this year.” (NPR, October 14)

Sweetness for a Warming Planet 

Throughout the world, in kitchens everywhere, you can find a variety of food supplies affected by heat, drought, fires, and exceptional storms. Honeybees in the US have suffered from “colony collapse” which is probably a result of decreased availability of pollen sources, due to climate change. Another source of sweetness: the sugar-maple groves in Michigan, Vermont, and Canada; these trees have become less productive because of unpredictable weather in spring, when the sap is gathered for maple syrup. Sugar cane cultivation has also been affected by storms and heat waves. Also food for thought: unlike many other crops, cane sugar production is a major producer of greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

In my kitchen: sugar, honey, maple syrup.

An article "Turkey's Honey Apocalypse is a Warning to the World" (in the Atlantic, published October 28) summarizes how unprecedented heat and fires are affecting beekeepers in Turkey, California, Morocco, India, and Australia, diminishing the number of productive hives in a number of ways. The importance of bees as pollinators of other crop disrupt agricultural success. The article is specifically focused on the way that wildfires of exceptional intensity destroyed large numbers of honey-producing beehives in Turkey and Greece in 2021. One of the local Turkish favorite types of honey is now virtually unavailable.

On a global scale, the article points out: "bees are an integral part of our ecosystems, and the destruction of bees and their habitats can affect the pollination of plants that produce almonds, coffee, and more. As heat waves and fires sweep through North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, sweetness and sustenance are too often reduced to ash."

No Matter How Bad Things Are, Have a Happy Halloween!

Don’t worry, we do have something other than vegetables in the house.

In fact, we are ready for the trick-or-treaters. I promise not to eat any before 6 PM.
Candy prices have gone up a lot, but that’s yet another discussion!

Blog post © 2022 mae sander. 
Shared with Sherry’s In My Kitchen Blog Party 
and with Elizabeth’s weekly tea party.



Cloudia said...

It's good to be aware, thank you, But yes: keep enjoying life and being kind, Mae. Love It!

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

Thank you for the awareness of important issues that you bring to your readers. It is a shame about global warming and the effect it has on food production. I did read that Meat and dairy production specifically is responsible for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, based on the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Another reason to increase the amount of plant-based meals we eat.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Fresh veggies can be a luxury and so can some of the items you wrote about, like honey and real maple syrup. You are truly blessed with your ability to afford these things that are out of reach for those who are considered low income.

I was surprised to learn about the Florida's Natural. I know the crops were affected this year, but I had NO idea there was such a decline in production otherwise. Thanks for bringing these to our attention and thanks for sharing Florida's Natural with us for T this week, too, dear Mae.

My name is Erika. said...

Then there are the fungi diseases like those that affect chocolate, coffee and (I think) bananas. We are very spoiled in this country, aren't we? Yes, we all have to decide how to live in times like this when prices have gone up, but if climate change continues prices will go even higher. And people in many parts of the world have so much less. Thanks for this post Mae. It was a really interesting read. Have a great T day and hope you're having a great Halloween too. hugs-Erika

R's Rue said...

Thank you for sharing. I always learn something. I want Joe Joe’s now.

Kate Yetter said...

Yes, so many food items have been effected by the shortage.
Happy Tea Day,

Carola Bartz said...

As you said, we are very privileged (and spoilt) in this country, at least if you can afford it. There is an additional human-made problem in the California Central Valley that now spits into the farmers' face - the relentless exploitation of the soil no matter what, miles and miles of mono-culture, the over-use of weed killers and fertilizers. Add to that the yearslong drought... I think the global food situation will even get worse. By the way, Trader Joe's still has orange juice not from concentrate. This was a very interesting post, Mae.

Darla said...

A very interesting and important post. Thanks for the research. As Carola said, California grows a whold lot and had many issues with that, including but not limited to climate change. We try to keep a small kitchen garden going and share our citrus when our trees produce well.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

I was quite surprised at the low percentage shown on the map for South Africa. You paint a bleak picture which as you say is scary for the poor and impoverished. Our bumper citrus crop was exported and the EU had issues with something so who knows how much of it landed in Europe. Our food prices continue to rise but not as badly as predicted.

Valerie-Jael said...

It is really alarming how many products and commodities are disappearing, and still people continiue to destroy the planet as if they could buy a new one tomorrow. We need to wake up now! Valerie

Lisca said...

Yes, we have problems in Spain too and everything is getting dearer. We can still afford fresh vegetables as they are being grown in the village. It's a question of being content with what's in season and not wanting fresh asparagus in February. Spain produces bananas and most fruits. We also have greenhouses not far far here producing lettuce and salad things (The plastic is to keep the burning sun of the produce rather than raise the temperature).
It's good to think about what we are doing to the planet and what our grandchildren will have to face. We live here so we could be self sufficient when times get bad. The next problem is going to be fresh water. Wars will be fought over water I predict. We will be entering the third year of severe drought. It is autumn now, but it hasn't rained yet. The temperatures are unusually high. I fear for my grandchildren.
Happy T-Day,

CJ Kennedy said...

Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I hope the world can come to its senses before it's too late. Btw, chocolate is a vegetable as it comes from a bean. Happy T Day

CJ Kennedy said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. I hope the world can come to its senses before it's too late. Btw, chocolate is a vegetable as it comes from a bean. Happy T Day

jinxxxygirl said...

I cannot say i read your entire post.. just too long for me i'm sorry to say.. Especially on a T party day when i have many to visit and other things to accomplish today.. But i find your subject interesting.. Hubby and i often comment here in TX where we are losing land they use to grow crops or raise cattle to housing developers or windmills or solar panel fields.. Many ranches just around our little town have gone that way.. and the drought is not helping .. Its making many ranchers give up ranching.. Happy T day! Hugs! deb

Let's Art Journal said...

Such an interesting post, who knew! Happy November and T Day 😊. Hugs Jo x

Divers and Sundry said...

I appreciate how you highlight these important issues. It's scary how little-known this is.

We don't get any trick or treaters here, but I buy candy just the same ;) Happy T Tuesday!

Lisca said...

We are so lucky that we grow most of our food nearby. And Spain produces olive oil , even bananas. We have everything we need.
I fear for our grandchildren as the food situation will only get worse. And on top of that, there will be a problem getting fresh water for irrigation. The next wars will be fought over water, I predict that. We are in a third year of drought. The ground water table is sinking and some wells are already dry. It is November and we have not had a drop of rain yet!
Thanks for pointing this out as many people are so ignorant about the food situation.
Happy T-Day,

thecuecard said...

The world's food & vegetable supply looks bad. Ugh. Poor Ukraine too. The Grain problem is going to be a nightmare (I fear). On the brighter side, I wonder if you had any candy leftover after Halloween or was it all gone?

Sherry's Pickings said...

scary times indeed Mae. With the floods, droughts and bushfires we've had in recent years, our supplies are not in a fabulous way either. We will have to start growing our own!

Empire of the Cat said...

Our food prices are increasing weekly, so much is imported and not grown here so it is a concern, plus supply chain problems etc. It's not a great situation at the moment for usre. Happy T Day! Elle/EOTC xx

nwilliams6 said...

I a very worried about all this. Thanks for all the details, Mae. I hoping that we all get serious and take appropriate steps all around. Hugz

Marg said...

We are facing similar issues here. Prices rise, climate change, farm land being built on are all factors.

Liz said...

Thank you Mae for this informative article, it is indeed alarming. I lived in Florida for many years as a teenager (it was a long time ago) but there used to be miles of orange orchards in the Orlando area. Driving through the area you could smell the flowers when they were in bloom. It was amazing. When Disney came in, they tore out those orchards for theme parks and housing. That same thing has happened all across Florida. Cheap housing has trumped oranges.