Climate Change for the Very Picky Eater

Photo Credit: Pamela Graham via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Pamela Graham via Compfight cc

San Francisco is known for its culinary delights; there’s just about every type of restaurant in town for every kind of diet.  Paleos, GAPSers, macrobiotics, raw juicers and frugivores can delight in the many delectable treats available around every corner.  We have everything from Jakartan street food (the menu of which actually taunts that “you will not like this!”) to vegan chickin’ and waffles.  People have business cards with titles such as “Broth Maker” and “Kombucha Sommalier”.   It’s the land of the $4 toast and the $65 juice, but also the $2 taco – personally I recommend the taco, for price and pleasure.

So in a place where your daily food options are everything from pork ban mi to toasted quinoa, where do you go for something really different?  Why not try the restaurant where you can’t see the food? That’s where I took my husband for his recent birthday—a little place that serves you dinner in the dark. I mean the pitch dark, as in zero light at all.

Now you’re probably thinking that eating in pure blackness has got to be an incredibly wild and enriching experience.  All of your other senses must be enhanced by the loss of your eyesight.  You become more conscious of the taste.  The smells become overwhelming.  The texture of the food becomes ineffable.  The ordinary becomes extraordinary!  You delight in every last nibble.

So, what’s it like to eat pork chops and polenta in the pitch dark?  It’s like….eating pork chops and polenta in the pitch dark.  Um, yeah.

If the food is dry, well, the lack of light doesn’t help.  And if the drinks are too sweet?  Changing the lighting doesn’t really change that.  In fact, the loss of vision becomes a bit of an impediment to enjoyment because every small imperfection in the food becomes extremely noticeable. Turns out, sensory deprivation isn’t the best way to enjoy mediocre food.

Now you may think that I am being fussy, which could be possible, though I have to say I’ve eaten my share of grasshoppers and black eggs without a single complaint (except about the antennae getting stuck in my teeth, because yuck).  But for the record, I’d like to say that if I am a fussy eater, I am certainly not the only one.  In fact people in general are not the only fussy eaters out there.  Turns out bugs, yes, insects can be pretty fussy too, particularly under a warming climate.

What do I mean?  Well, I’ve talked a lot before about the effects of climate change on plants, particularly plants that create drugs, because that is all people really seem to care about these days (freaks).  And I’ve even talked about how climate change is going to influence insects and even the things that eat insects!  Like, wow, lots of things being affected here.  But I haven’t really talked about the effect of climate change on plant quality for the insects that rely on them for food.  Yeah, food quality even matters to insects.  Picky little bastards.

So, how does temperature influence plant quality?  Well, temperature levels during plant growth can affect everything from photosynthesis to nutrient availability, all of which impact a plant’s nutritional quality.  So if you have a plant that is grown at a higher temperature, depending on the plant, it may actually be less nutrient-rich.  And what happens when insects eat plants that are of poor nutritional quality?  Well, they eat a lot more of it.  Kind of like how when people eat McDonalds they don’t really feel satiated, and eat more and more and more until the Mayor of New York has to outlaw it or something…

When researchers fed little butterfly pupae (because cute! Or because science, I don’t know) plants that had been grown at a higher temperature, even with increased chomping on the leaves, the pupae’s growth was stunted. This suggests that they were trying to eat more to compensate for the lack of nutrients in the leaves, and failed to get big and fat because these leaves were just of poor quality.

So this could be good news for people who worry about pests, because the plants of the future might not be as nutrient rich, which could stunt pest growth – hurray!  But at the same time, those pests could tell that the food they were eating was no good, so they just ate more – boo!  Then again this is just one factor: temperature.  We all know that climate change includes lots of things that could impact plants including changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide, as well as rain and snow patterns.  These are all things that might interact with temperature to influence both plants and the little pests that love them.

Will these changes create a new generation of picky pests?  If so, they can’t be any worse than the picky people of San Francisco, myself included.  If they want to move to the Bay area to join us snobby consumers, I think they’d fit in just fine.

Further Reading:

Increased temperature reduces herbivore host-plant quality

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