Ecology

The Reality of a 'Last Supper' in the Face of Climate Crisis

In a Minneapolis restaurant late January, the notion of a 'last supper' took a thought-provoking turn, challenging the traditional luxury dining concept. The brainchild of former White House chef Sam Kass, this dinner wasn't about obscure delicacies on the brink of extinction. Instead, it showcased familiar foods like salmon, oysters, coffee, and wine – items we might lose due to climate change.

A Wake-Up Call on Our Plates

Foods integral to our daily lives – coffee, wine, and chocolate – are at risk due to even slight temperature increases, posing threats to livelihoods and cultural identities. Kass, along with chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern, has been taking this message global, highlighting how climate change directly impacts our plates.

Dinner amidst Abnormal Warmth

Hosted in the typically frigid state of Minnesota, the dinner coincided with an unusually warm winter. The event, part of the Great Northern festival, usually a celebration of winter, highlighted the need to preserve the environment for future festivities. Chef Marque Collins crafted a menu, featuring dishes like Norwegian salmon, oysters, lamb, fingerling potatoes, and sticky toffee pudding – familiar yet endangered foods.

Focusing on Everyday Pleasures

Kass centres his narrative around three staples: coffee, wine, and chocolate. He stresses that these aren't extravagant choices but everyday pleasures that might become rare due to climate change. The impact isn't just on our plates; it's about our ability to pass down a quality of life that is at severe risk.

Concrete Examples of Change

Kass and Zimmern share real-world examples – from decimated oysters in Apalachicola Bay to a disastrous year for Georgia peaches. Their aim is to showcase how increasing scarcity makes these foods more expensive, exacerbating social inequalities. They caution that the future might mirror scenes from Willy Wonka, with shared chocolate bars representing a luxury.

Not a Dinner to Depress, But to Educate

Despite the sobering message, the dinner isn't meant to depress. Instead, it serves as an educational platform to demonstrate the impact of climate change on our food systems. Diners actively engage, asking questions about being responsible consumers and how they can contribute to positive change.

The Urgency to Act and Spread the Message

While several dozen diners can't single-handedly solve a global crisis, the hosts stress the importance of spreading the message. Zimmern urges people to alert friends and policymakers, emphasising that the climate crisis requires urgent solutions. The aim is to create awareness and prompt collective action.

Delectable Courses with a Purpose

Each course of the dinner carries a purposeful message. From crispy salmon skin and shrimp chips symbolising the risks to seafood due to warming waters to the delicious crunch of east coast oysters, west coast oysters, and marinated mussels representing the perils faced by mollusks – each dish has a story.

Nordic Influence and Aquaculture

The Norwegian salmon dish not only showcases a Nordic influence but also show the need for responsible choices. Warming waters and changing precipitation patterns affect wild salmon, making aquaculture programs crucial for sustainable seafood.

Land Animals and the Ripple Effect

While land animals might not be directly at risk, their food sources are. Larger-commodity crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans could have broad impacts on global food supply if they face even minor shifts in crop viability. The 'Hidden Streams' lamb dish highlights the interconnectedness of our food systems.

From Coffee to Chocolate: A Bitter Future?

Coffee, wine, and chocolate – everyday indulgences – face an uncertain future. Coffee needs a stable climate, and a 2°C warming by 2050 could render half the region’s growing coffee unsuitable. Similarly, wine producers are investing in new regions due to climate-induced changes, like the Champagne growers eyeing land in England.

A Sweet End with a Serious Message

The final course, a coffee and chocolate sticky toffee pudding, encapsulates the threat to multiple foods. From flour symbolising staple crops to pistachio and hazelnut wafers representing threatened nuts, the dessert serves as a poignant reminder of the potential economic shocks linked to declining staple crops.

Facing the Unpleasant Truth

Eating a chocolate bar or sipping a cup of coffee isn't driving the problem. It's our collective human behaviour and activity endangering these staples. Kass concludes that the climate is on track to eliminate cacao tree production by 2050, affecting small farmers and their way of life.

Lessons Learned and a Call to Action

The 'last supper' isn't just about endangered foods but a call to understand how climate change impacts what we eat. It urges us to be informed consumers, spread the message, and actively contribute to solutions. It's not a narrative of doom but a wake-up call to collectively shape a better, sustainable world for future generations.