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Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need.

What is the evidence that can lead us to see major changes within the entire food value chain as viable solutions for major global concerns?

Food Science is a multidisciplinary field involving chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology and engineering to give one the scientific knowledge to solve real problems associated with the many facets of the food system.

In order to feed more than 10 billion people by 2050, while ending hunger and tackling unhealthy eating habits, humankind will have to rethink and change the global food system.

Wondering about how we can make better choices that may lead us to an adequate global food supply while sustaining our planet and natural resources?

Becoming better informed about the science of climate change, the impacts it is having, and how to talk about it is essential for us to make better choices that may lead us to an adequate global food supply while sustaining our planet and natural resources.

Shifting to a more plant-based diet is very helpful, as is reducing food waste. But it’s not just all about food. There is more.

Virtual Coffee, Special Episodes: Where scientists discuss climate change, the future of food, health, nutrition and sustainability in the food system.

This new season of Virtual Coffee is dedicated to climate change and food of the future. It kicks off with a 3 part episode based on the book "Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need", by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman.





Professor Michael P. Hoffmann, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University
Ron Shigeta


Dr. Danielle L. Eiseman, Author, Lecturer, Climate Change Research Scientist.
Dr. Kai-Brit Bechtold




Lavítor Matzembacker, COO at ProteinX Foundation

Key points:

  • Climate change and food supply: Why should we care?
  • Our food supply: From Land and Sea to the Menu
  • Climate change: How it is fundamentally altering the menu


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Read the transcription of the panel discussion:

Lavítor M.: Welcome to Virtual Coffee, Season 3, Special Episodes. This new season premieres with a three part special episode based on the book Our Changing Menu. So today, we have the pleasure of the company of two of the authors of this amazing book. By the way, it's on sale on Amazon, with a special discount for a limited time... Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, Mike Hoffmann and Author, Lecturer, Climate Change Research Scientist, Dr. Danielle L. Eiseman.

So, Mike and Daniel, why don't we kick things off with a warm up question... Why his book? Who was involved, and who did the amazing artwork?

Mike H.: I’ll start with my personal story and why the book. And all of us who are aware of climate change, want to be able to help other people understand what's happening. And over the years I've given many, many talks on climate change, but it seemed like every time I brought up impact food, especially things like coffee and chocolate that really got people's attention. They really listened and asked a lot of questions.

And that makes sense, we all eat, we all care about our food, certain favorite foods, our family traditions and all part of our culture, and also to be effective, talking about climate change has to be relevant.

As I frequently say, melting glaciers are bad, but the loss of coffee is downright terrifying. So that was kind of the aha moment about the whole idea to get people's attention about climate change and act.

And most of us here, I'll turn it over to Danielle and share her story. Tell you the rest of the story about the major, major artists, and others.

Danielle E.: Thanks Mike and thank you, Lavítor for having us on.

For me, getting involved with the book was a gradual process so when I first started working at Cornell, with Mike, I offered to help out, mainly by collecting research and summarizing some of that. And when I started to do that, both Mike and Carrie, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, who is the other co-author on the book. And they invited me to help in starting to write some of the chapters, and some of the information that was included in the book so it's the reason why I wanted to become involved in the process was not only because I enjoy working with Mike. 

We always have a lot of laughs together, but also because I've worked in the field of climate change, and public engagement for such a long time. And prior to that I was a professional chef, so the idea of communicating with people about climate change through food was really appealing to me. And it's a way to kind of bring together all of my, my backgrounds or all of my past lives, so to speak, to tell the story of climate change. 

So, I have you not only have a cooking experience and culinary background but also a background in chemistry and carbon management, as well as consumer behavior. So, this book was a way to create one body of work where I could take all of that education and experience and knowledge that I have and, and share it in a way that was very cohesive, up until this point, I think most of my work has been rather disjointed or disconnected, so this was one way to bring it all together.

And then, you know, we, we worked as a team so this was initially Mike's big idea so we always call it Mike's baby, and, and he brought together Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, a freelance writer in New York and she worked with Mike for a long time, and Mike you might have to correct some of the details — if I don't have them correct, but she used to work at the north eastern IPM, or it was an integrated pest management center with Mike wood, he was the director there, and so they had a really great working relationship and Mike brought Carrie on board to help writes and interview people to include profiles within the book so that we create this this human side or include this human side, in, in the story that we tell, in the book, and then we brought on in artists. One of them was Lindsey Potoff, and we decided and again this wasn't initially our idea but you know when we first started talking about what would be in the book, we thought about infographics and ways that we could tell the story with images, and as the conversations continued we thought maybe something that was a little bit more.

I don't know, like a, maybe a throwback. Perhaps I don't know how to describe it, but we, you know, we thought about some of the drawings and how we could display some of these stories and we thought we could hire an artist, so we put out a call for a student artist at Cornell and Lindsay I think was one of the first people that I interviewed and we sat down and we talked for a little while and then she said, why don't I just draw you something and I'll bring it back in a couple of days so she went off and drew a stock of wheats, and she brought it to me and I was, I was blown away by what she had drawn, and then I ran down the hall to Mike's office and showed him and, and we decided that Lindsay was the perfect person to help with the artwork in the book.

Lavitor M.: So the book starts with a discussion about our food supply, please explain where food comes from. That's a tough one. And why should we care about it?

Danielle E.: I guess I'll, I'll jump in first, so there's, we're so disconnected from where food is. You know there's a long history of way before the food system or the food supply chain got so big and, and, before there was this concept of value adding along the supply chain. Your people knew who grew their food, they knew where their food came from, they had these very close relationships with the people that provided food for them. And that relationship has become very disconnected and links it that time.

And so people don't have a close relationship with the people that produce food, they don't have a full understanding of how food is processed, how it's transported and all of those inputs that are added throughout the food supply chain. And we wanted to really highlight that to show how many people are actually working in these different industries, and we wanted to share with people the stories behind the people who are providing food for us which is a huge job, and it's a global job, and it's a difficult job. And we wanted that to shine through.

Mike H.: I think the other part of this is, people from all understand the risk posed to the food that's coming from so many parts of the world. The recent example of that, one of the largest ships in the world getting stuck in the Suez Canal was a perfect example of what could happen in the future with climate change either there's a drought and there's not enough water like actually right now on the Mississippi there's a drought, and the barges are having a difficulty of transporting enormous amounts of goods that are, that flow on the Mississippi.

So we wanted to one as Danielle said, also help people appreciate who is producing this food for us, like the family in Western Africa, harvesting cows, and making all $4 a day and the hungry enjoy that chocolate. So we need to appreciate the individuals out there and farming is challenging.

Even in the US, it's very challenging getting worse, with our changing climate.

So there's a strong connection to the food and also just to raise awareness and oh yes you can go to the grocery store and get all these things but it's a huge, complicated system that's getting that there, and the rest of that are increasing again because of climate change.

Lavitor M.: You also discuss climate change in the book, a scary topic to some, what is the current status?

Mike H.: Some call it an existential threat to basically our way of life. Yes.Current status is simply not good.

We've got 50% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than we used to have, which has all kinds of implications.

The signs of climate change are everywhere. The fires off the West because of higher temperatures in the drought and just making conditions.

Perfect for the fires, even right here in upstate New York. A few weeks ago, we were in a red zone, the air quality was bad, almost as bad as right there in Washington and Portland, it was mind boggling.

Melting glaciers that Greenland is now melting at a rate that's never been heard, heard of recorded before. So the symptoms are all over the place. And those of us who spend a lot of time in this space can get frightened, to say the least. So I think, you know, it's time for action. 



It's a time for the topic, we're sharing here today our food to get people more aware, and to act on his issue, so we'll see what the future holds, but, you know, at the current trajectory, things are going to get worse for a period of time, but we can hopefully modify that a little bit and adapt to the situation, but it's going to take all of us to get in good into this fight against climate change.

Danielle E.:Yeah, I don't have that much more to add, although I think it's important to highlight some of the stories that come out or some of the messages that come out, especially when it says we only have, you know, nine years left or, or you. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding, around what that timeline means, so a lot of people interpret that as the world's gonna end in nine years whereas it's, it's really about stopping or reducing the the rapid changes that we are seeing, so that things don't get much worse than they are projected to get. 

And I think a lot of people misunderstand that. So they automatically disregard those messages, especially when it comes to making changes in their lifestyles and asking for policies that reduce the impacts of climate change or reducing emissions, so there's still a lot of education that needs to happen.

Mike H.: And I’ll add to that: There are solutions. And when people do see those headlines, they basically fear whatever they just shut down. What can I do? I'm just one person. So again our story is to help people.

I call it sometimes to find your greater purpose. And now's the time to find your greater purpose than helping solve this problem, mitigate the impacts of climate change choppiness or doubt, rather than just, just to be honest sitting in front of your television, and spending your time doing that we can all be participating in this effort, 

Lavítor M.: How climate change is affecting the plants we depend on for life? 

Mike H.: This can be eye opening for a lot of people, that's another message we're sharing. So a plant. I think everybody realizes, requires air, in particular, carbon dioxide and oxygen, the right temperature, water and Soil, we've all pet potted plants. Haven't done very well and forget to water them where we put them next to a radiator and they get cooked. So let's just take a pop crop plant in the field. Well there's already mentioned much more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and some argue, well that's great, because it has a fertilization on the plant. More food so to speak, and it grows faster and bigger. 

In reality, the stresses from higher temperatures, more extreme weather and as offset any gain that crops plants, and they've been way they'd benefit from increased CO2 What, there's been a lot of research where scientists grow plants under conditions, higher levels of CO2 that we might see in the future. One of the outcomes, herbicides are less likely to control some plants, they sort of in this process become more resistant to herbicides.

One of the more profound impacts is received by mid century, the nutritional quality of our major crops, rice and corn and others will decline.

There'll be a 30% reduction in vitamins, certain vitamins and rice, because again of increasing CO2 The same goes for minerals, and protein. So, those of us in wealthy countries will probably do okay, but those already on marginal diets are really going to be compromised. If this continues, not plant breeders can come along and help develop plants that will retain those nutritional qualities but there's a lot of stories about how CO2 in the future will affect plants. The other ones clearly water.

We're already seeing that the mega drought out west, which was simply a drought but now made much worse because of climate change, has huge impacts on food, especially in California. We in the Northeast now getting rainfalls, that are potentially downpours, we're up over 50% and heavy precipitation events, which is downwards when that makes it challenging for farmers, it washes away soil nutrients, and sometimes makes it really difficult for them to get in the field, melting glaciers.

I enjoy blueberries in the wintertime, and they come from Peru or Chile, and they're dependent on melting glaciers in the wintertime, are actually ice caps, they're going to be gone in 20 years. They're growing blueberries, temperature, water, I think I've covered those already, now they're doing additional presses. They are changing thoughts affecting plants on land, soil, higher temperatures again affects the quality of soil and there's more carbon released when tire tempters the storms are washed away. That's on land and if we also look into the oceans, phytoplankton, which are essentially the basis of life in the oceans are being put at risk, because with warming temperatures the oceans are becoming more stratified or layered. 

So, the nutrients that typically come up from upwelling from deep in the ocean. If that layer, they never make it up to the final point, which, by the way, again, basis with a food chain and the ocean but also suppliers have more oxygen in the Indian Ocean, they already reported on the 20 20% decline and phytoplankton so those plants that we depend on for life are all being changed by climate change.

So, what have we done... We have a book, the website. And we aspire to create a climate change social movement, driven by food. And that is why I'm here today to listen to learn and see how we can fit in and join forces. 

Thank you, Mike and Danielle. Thank you all. I hope you’ve enjoyed this.

We’ll see you again in Part II of this episode. Thank you.

About this welcome opening:

Date: 06/08/2021


Dr. Michal P. Hoffmann, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, and Dr. Danielle L. Eiseman, Author, Lecturer, Climate Change Research Scientist. 


Lavítor Matzembacker, COO at ProteinX Foundation.

More about “Our changing menu: climate change and the foods we love and need”, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman.

The book’s website.

More about the Cornell Institute for Food Systems.

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ProteinX Foundation is a nonprofit institution based in Silicon Valley, CA. Its mission is to provide students and scientists around the world with resources to develop solutions that will reduce carbon footprint, improve health, and nutrition.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Podcast as well as in its transcript are those of the participant guest speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of proteinX or its partners and sponsors. In the same way, the participant speakers do not endorse any products, services, brands, practices, professionals or views other than what they specifically and directly expressed by verbalizing at the time the episode was recorded. In addition, transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio file (podcast) before ever quoting in print.