Dieting: one more thing for climate change to ruin

It is a rite of passage after moving to Northern California to take on your first diet. I’m not talking about dieting to lose weight, nor am I talking about those boring diets that are popular everywhere else in the sensible world, such as vegetarianism, veganism or even ovo-lacto-pescatarianism. Those diets are a little too based in reality. They don’t truly combine your kooky ethics, morals, personal dreams and cockamamie scientific understanding.

Oh, you are on a raw vegan or macrobiotic diet? That’s child’s play to the diets I’m talking about.

These diets are color coded, because orange food realigns your chakras. They involve only eating raw meat, because that’s what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. They require devouring fruit that has fallen to the ground, because those are the foods the tree has chosen to give us. This is not your parents’ South Beach diet. These diets are the black diamond of the diet world.

So for a new year’s resolution, I decided to try out my very own California diet that would reflect my inner spirit and my ethics. It would address my concern for the planet and inter-species justice. It would add moral relevance to every bite I took. It would involve a questionable take on basic science that I could justify through my personal observations of the world.

After considering several options: the revenge diet (only eating things that would eat me first), the fruit diet (truly the gassiest of all diets) and the taco diet (because tacos rock), I landed on the diet that fit me best: the filter-feeder diet. You know filter-feeders, the garbage compactors of the ocean, the ones who can literally turn sand into pearls. They are magical, they are delicious and honestly I could spend my entire life eating nothing but filter feeders: clams, oysters and scallops.

Alas though, my questionable diet choice may already be crushed by reality before I’ve even started. No, it’s not because of the more obvious reasons of costs or even the ethics of eating animals. No, it’s climate change; climate change has gone and ruined yet another perfectly irrational diet.

Though I’ve talked about the effect of ocean acidification on shelled sea animals in the past, that’s not my concern here. No, in this case it is the effect of climate change on algae blooms that is ruining my diet choice. This is through creating environments that are more hospitable and lovelier for certain types of micro-algae called dinoflagellates and diatoms. Though they are called algae, they are probably not what you think of when you think of algae – instead of being slimy green plant-like material that gets under your bathing suit when you’re swimming in the ocean, dinoflagellates and diatoms are single-celled organisms that still get in your swim suit, but you probably wouldn’t notice.

So this population swing is great news for the micro-algae and no doubt great for whatever is eating them – like my new diet friends the oysters. But some of these micro-algae have toxins in them, and when they are consumed by the filter feeders those toxins accumulate, and then when I go and eat a dozen oysters I get sick. And I mean really sick. We are talking paralysis sick. These toxins are messed up. And many do not have an antidote.

There are many things that could influence an algae bloom. These algae are well, organisms. And as biological organisms they will be influenced by several factors that affect most biological organisms…like say, access to nutrients or, I don’t know, temperature. As it just so happens, as you might have heard, the ocean temperature is going to rise.

This rise in temperature is predicted to change the population and competitive dynamics of these micro-algae, favoring certain populations over others. Moreover, it will expand the range of some of these organisms as well, allowing them into new areas that they will not be expected. In some cases it will be the toxic type of micro-algae that make these expansions, and in some cases they may be out-competed by other more benign species. The challenge is knowing which organisms are where, and how it is affecting the local ecosystems. So you can see the problem – in areas with historical outbreaks, people know when to look and where for potential algae blooms that could affect our food safety. If these micro-algae expand to new areas, people may not be looking as closely and then oof, not a good outcome for anyone eating those clams.

Alas this is terrible news for me and my new diet plans. Leave it to climate change to get in the way of my first attempt at self-actualization through diet. Maybe I could try one of the other diets on my list, or combine a few. Or maybe I’d better stick with my current seafood diet that is more of an expression of who I truly am. You know the seafood diet, right? I see food, and I eat it.

Further Reading:
Climate change and food safety: A review

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