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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:

  • Our menu (the foods we love and need) is changing, but what is being done?
  • Stories of farmers, fishers and chefs: the people on the frontlines of climate change
  • How climate change is affecting perfumes, medicinal plants, and other plant-dependent products


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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, once again, for Part II, 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, the second part of your book really brings home the point of your story. Tell us how everything on the menu is changing and what is being done to keep it stocked...

Mike H.: I'll start with essentially the heart of our book, our story. If you can imagine going to a restaurant, picking up the menu.

We can tell stories about everything on there, because something is changing but our story as oftentimes happens with climate change is not one of doom and gloom.

Right now I'm thinking of pecan pie. My favorite. So we celebrate food. We celebrated being part of family histories, actually, when you think of tequila you think of Mexico, there's all these connections we have with food.

It's also a big business. Millions of people are employed in this industry. And for each of the ingredients we talked about we select specific ingredients on the menu. We talk about you know where it comes from, we dig a little deeper, who's growing.

It's kind of fun, a lot of effort to fill in all the details on the menu, but like, a typical buying dinner. We start with before dinner beverages beer, wine and spirits, and then we move on to silence the main course site desserts and coffee.

I think I will do this as Danielle and I will pick our specific menu item offer here as we proceed and we can dig a little deeper into what's happening and I'll start with a good Chardonnay wine.

So the extreme heat in California affects the quality of the grapes, which affects the wine, the sugar content and a variety of other aromatics, that's a challenge for winemakers in California and Europe.

Also, the lack of winter chill is another thing. Few people realize, but warming winters are affecting a lot of fruit and nut crops they need to go into a dormant state. If they don't, they don't produce. So that's a challenge for three effective major crops but it's on the horizon for grapes.

And all of this means maybe our favorite wines will be out on the shelf in the future, or they may be grown someplace else, or they may lose some of their characteristics.

So I'll let Danielle pick another one of those wonderful beverages to talk about.

Danielle E.: I’m surprised you didn't go with gin, Mike.

We both share a love of gin, but I think for me also beer, so that's one of my favorites are nice bitter hoppy beers, and given that 70% of the hops are grown in the northwest of the United States.

There's a lot of challenges that hops growers are facing not only with the recent wildfires which are happening more frequently, but also, again with the, the melting glaciers that provide a lot of the spring water the melting snowpack that provides a lot of the spring water for growing hops, and the really bitter hops that I personally enjoy require a lot more water than some of the other varieties of hops.

So, it's becoming more challenging, and more expensive to grow those varieties because of the, the need for water, and then also the brewing process which requires a lot of water as well so it's becoming more and more difficult, especially out west to have access to water, and so there's been discussions of possibly using recycled water gray water to help with the brewing process which will ultimately alter the flavor of beer.

But I think one of my favorite stories that has come out of our research for the book is the, the use of of hops hunters, so they're these people that go out into different areas and look for new varieties of hops that are more resistant or more tolerant to the changing conditions and there's one hot center that we interviewed, and I think he's based out of New York, but he was going out into the deserts in Arizona, and finding drought resistant hops varieties that could be used to make beer. 

So, I think there's ways that we're adapting that are very interesting to, you know, help make sure that the menu is, you know, continues in the way that we like it or the way that we enjoy it. 

Mike H.: And since the first part of our menu is my favorite beverage. Just one quick final story and that has to do with bourbon, which is typically aged in oak barrels outside, and under normal conditions they lose about 2% by volume every year, fire defeat by diffusion through the yoke. I call it the angel share.

When I was getting warmer.

And the angel is taking more. And it's actually 10s of millions of dollars of losses every year for bourbon and again other things delectable are just tender aged out of doors. 

And let's move on to salad and I'll just pick up on avocado, which is something we love.

We now are the greatest largest importer of avocados from Mexico that for most comes from.



And at the grow those avocados there have deemed to open some of the native forest, which is an issue, but we are the ones that benefit from that California production we're probably dropped by 20 to 40% in the next 40% the next 20 years because of increasing temperatures so that's one of our favorites, again, through plant breeding and other mechanisms and something we'll get to later climate smart farming we can kind of minimize that impact. But that's one thing that's affecting salads.

Lavitor M.: What about insights from interviews with farmers, fishers, chefs… What do people on the frontlines of climate change have to say?

Danielle E.: We really wanted to add that, that human element and we thought that, just talking about the size of the industry wasn't enough, we wanted to share the stories of the people that are experiencing a lot of these impacts firsthand.

So, again, really humanize these issues and also put a face or name to the different experiences.

And so, we wanted to show you the different processes involved in producing a lot of these different foods so I mentioned the hops hunter that we interviewed, but we interviewed people from, you know farmers to ice cream executives, I think, Carrie spoke to someone at Ben and Jerry's about their experiences and challenges in producing ice cream to the current quality that it's been at and maintaining that quality.

Also, a lobster.

I forgot the correct way... Is it “fisher person”? “Fisher”? “Lobster person”?


I forgot the correct terminology for someone that catches lobsters, because it's not exactly like fishing but, um, And then I spoke to a former classmate of mine, Andre Cydia. He was at the time, the Creative Director for Rick Bayless as restaurants in Chicago, and he was overseeing a lot of the Quit cuisine and menu development at Lana Brava, which is in the river north area of Chicago. 

So, a very popular neighborhood with lots of restaurants and so it was, it was fascinating to sit down with Andreas and talk to him, especially after so much time had passed since we've been in culinary school together, and he was able to provide so many examples from his own experience of cooking in Chicago, that really demonstrates what's happening and the challenges that chefs make are facing.

So, for one example, Rick Bayless his restaurants are known for having their own garden so they can source a lot of a lot of their own ingredients right there so that you know they have rooftop gardens in the restaurants that they own, and one season they were, you know, they typically grow their tomatoes for sauces and things like that so there's a lot of tomatoes used in their menus and one season the crop was completely ruined because of some of the changes that were happening in Chicago. 

And so they had to all of a sudden source tomatoes and buy from outside their own restaurants, which was something that they struggled with. And then, another example he provided is new in Chicago, there's a lot of seasonality, around the foods that are presented in menus there so in the spring when everything starts to come out there's ramp season so ramps are kind of like a wild onion, very similar to an onion or garlic type of flavor and it's very special and unique and it's a very short season. And all of a sudden ramp season was showing up later. 

When you come to or when you're starting to plan your menus and for the seasonal vegetables that are coming out, it's hard to plan for those changes. And then after ramp season is Morel season with the, which is a mushroom. And that again it has been shifting and so it's become more, more difficult for restaurants that really have seasonal menus to adapt to that and to include that in their planning for some of their special menus.

Mike H.: On the other stories there was one of the individual purchases in a distillery in Tennessee and they buy all these specific flavors and ingredients from around the world. And one of those being vanilla, and a few years ago, and there, we're talking large quantities of unknown natural vanilla, and because of increasing hurricanes in Madagascar, which is the main source of natural vanilla, the price went up 350% So for this individual that was not a trivial change, Given the quantities of natural vanilla they purchased.

Another example would be, Carrie interviewed a gentleman in Central America, who traditionally had worked on coffee, helping farmers there with a non government organization.

Adopt climate smart farming activities to stay in business. Now his story has shifted, he's helping them start to produce a car, because the conditions are no longer ideal for coffee, but it's hopefully okay for a car to transition from one crop to another.

Another story about a sheep farmer at the headwaters of the Colorado River River and Wyoming 6500 Sheep 50 Sheep dogs, quite an operation also recognized for his sustainability efforts as farmers. They move the sheep around, they don't over-graze, they care for the land. But drought was severely affecting the grazing land for the sheep. And one side story he told was, they typically ride horses in the forest, that they can no longer do that because the bark beetles have come through and killed all the trees. 


And now there's a risk to simply riding the horse to the forest because the trees are falling down. We hope someday that his grandchildren could get back on the saddle on a horse and ride through those woods someday when things have returned to somewhat normal.

Also an interview of a relatively large farmer in California with 5000 acres, diversified farm, many kinds of nuts and fruit crops, Field Crops seed crops, but ultra pruning a major producer.

And he was experiencing this lack of winter chill. Yields are dropping, which again was a big deal for him because that was his main, one of his more important crops, but warming winters were affecting yield and they were starting to decline and he was starting to worry about his other tree crops, also being infected. So there's 20 to 24 stories like this throughout the book that really bring it home to what people on the front line with climate change are experiencing and what they're doing about.

Lavitor M.: Finally, you discuss how climate change is affecting perfumes, medicinal plants, and other plant-dependent products. I never thought of that!


It's another one of these eye opening changes that most people don't think about.

I assume some of your attire includes cotton clothing. Additional herbs. Pets die pet foods, perfumes, cosmetics, plant based cleaners. Now they're not necessarily all dependent on plants, but they may use different senses etc from different plants and they depend on that but they could probably get by but some of these are critically dependent on plants. 

I'll start with perfumes.

In France, those farmers producing orange blossoms for perfumes actually sued the French government over climate change, because it was destroying their business. And as mentioned earlier in the other episode plants are changing because carbon dioxide levels are changing heat water soils, and that affects the biochemistry of these special plants that are used in cosmetics and so on.



Medicinal herbs. Many of those are collected from the wild mountain sites, well, this warming, and the plants can't necessarily just pick up and move to stay where the temperatures are cooler at higher altitudes, they're also being, they're not being weed to come in and other species that outcompete them. So they're at risk. Just let alone the changes in water conditions and temperature.

So all you have to do is just look around your home and look at the ingredients, and you're gonna find plants and most. The other big one, are textiles like cotton, which is susceptible to water stress needless to say, and higher temperatures. And that's, these are multi billion dollar industries that are being compromised, that we depend on, because we eat a lot of them, and we wear a lot of them and use them in our daily life. So it's also, I think, a really exciting story to tell.

To raise awareness about climate change is affecting all of us.

Danielle E.: But I think it's on the other side of that, it's one thing that I, I can't remember a friend told me about 10 years ago and it was something that I never really realized was that a lot of the synthetic fabrics are derived from petroleum. So there's certain choices that we can make in the clothing that we buy in and textiles, is such a huge industry that you could opt for more sustainable clothing options that don't contribute to a lot of these impacts that we're experiencing. So avoiding things like polyester or rayon, is another thing to consider.

Mike H.: 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 III of this episode. Thank you

About this welcome opening:

Date: 09/07/2021


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.