and nuclear war. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault on an island off
Norway, dubbed the doomsday seed vault, holds seeds for more
than 4,000 species, with more than 930,000 samples from around
the world. It serves, for example, as a refuge for seeds from Syria’s
International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
(ICARDA) seed bank. But the Svalbard Global Seed Vault fell
victim to climate change, too, when high summer temperatures in
the Arctic Circle melted the permafrost, flooding the seed bank’s
entrance and throwing its fail-safe status into question. New
protections were subsequently put in place.
In the U.S., scientists at the National Laboratory for Genetic
Resource Preservation, Fort Collins, Colorado, are working on
new cultivars. For early ripening seasons in the Southeast, they
developed Gupton and Pearl blueberry varieties. A Columbia Giant
blackberry, developed by Chad Finn at the USDA’s Agricultural
Research Service (ARS), Corvallis, Oregon, should make blackberry lovers swoon. And from
North Carolina on south, Pink Lemonade, a not yet widely known pink blueberry developed by
Mark Ehlenfeldt, ARS, Chatsworth, New Jersey, could romance local salads.
In Hilo, Hawaii, ARS stores 186 different kinds of wild and cultivated pineapple in both
greenhouses and as tissue cultures, protecting the biodiversity of the third most-popular tropical
fruit after bananas and mangos. Meanwhile, 80% of the 345,000 varieties of seeds stored in the
Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry in St. Petersburg, Russia, are the last remaining
examples of their varieties. Around the world, scientists are on the case.
In New York, Abbey De La Rosa, chef at The Green Table, takes the situation seriously.
While the U.S. does not figure among the countries with the most low-lying coastal zones, the
2014 National Climate Assessment report lists No.1 Miami and No. 2 New York/Newark as
coastal cities highly vulnerable to climate change by 2070.
“We know that climate change is real—we see it in terms of how the seasons are changing
for us,” De La Rosa says. “When spring comes, for example, we expect lots of produce. Foods
we formerly got early in May came in at the end of May and in early June. Then, in July, we were
still waiting for English peas. We try to use local produce and products as much as possible. We
change our menu depending on what we have.”
Still, she finds it unsettling that GMO advocates can vaunt produce availability at any time. And
the fact that some farm-to-table restaurants use food that doesn’t really come from farms saddens her.
When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 while De La Rosa was working upstate, her boss closed the
restaurant for a week. At the time, she worried about the food going bad. But she also appreciated
having time off. Now her thoughts are much deeper, thanks to Cleaver’s influence. “Chefs can change
the world by directing their dollars to producers who practice regenerative agriculture,” Cleaver says.
Why not educate your waitstaff so that they can share their knowledge about how eating
organic plant-based diets and pasture-raised animals can help reduce global warming? Then the
circle of responsibility can grow, as diners pass this vision on to their families and friends.
“We are all going through our lives,” De La Rosa says. “Everyone is living and working. When
it comes to climate change, we have to take time and really think about it. There is so much to talk
about, including the oceans, animals and people. We compost. We’re aiming for no food waste.
What we are trying to do is make a difference. We’re not going for Michelin stars.”
E THEL HAMMER IS A WRITER, LECTURER AND CARTOONIS T BASED IN CHICAGO.