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Like What You Eat? It May Not Be an Option in the Future


If there’s a way to get more attention on climate change, food is a good starting point. 

Think of some of the most popular items we eat: cheese, strawberries, almonds. A lot of these foods are produced in California, which is suffering significantly from extreme weather patterns. 

In turn, much of what we eat is going to change if we don’t start making moves. 

In a research study for the UC Berkeley School of Public Policy, Dr. Anastasia Teleskey, a lawyer and professor at California Polytechnic State University, put together a report on how the climate crisis is changing the food system. 

And the findings were…bleak. 

Teleskey reviewed countless studies and policy recommendations to offer predictions on the state of food production in California, 50 years down the road. 

What she found was that, due to water shortages and rising temperatures, the state cannot move forward with “business as usual,” without putting avocados (and other treats) at risk.

“There will be a loss of production in food products that are U.S. based, fresh food in particular,” Teleskey tells Replate. “Fruit, nuts, milk, and vegetables will be more expensive unless producers in other parts of the U.S. expand their operations.”

California plays a huge role in the food system, both domestically and internationally. The U.S. is the largest global producer of almonds, pistachios, milk, and poultry, and most of that production takes place in the Golden State. 

California also produces over 50% of the country’s vegetables.

But reservoirs are drying up and rainfall is diminishing. 

To provide more insight, Teleskey identified four scenarios that are possible in a 50-year projection, depending on what actions are taken. 

These include: 

  • Selling the Farm: everything remains the same/we’re in trouble.  

  • Canadian Hothouse Tomatoes and Mexican Avocados: food production goes elsewhere. 

  • Land of Milk and Honey: California invests in improving its water supply and increasing renewable energy sources to continue production.

  • Innovation Nation: The state adopts more biotech solutions and vertical farming to expand options, and rely on drought resistant crops.

Teleskey predicts, “There will be changing social norms and technology innovation. We’ll see more investment and interest in controlled environment farming.”

Vertical farms have already started getting attention on the East Coast and internationally, but there hasn’t been as much buy-in out West. One reason may be due to efficiency, as this type of agriculture requires a substantial amount of energy, and currently is limited to only a few types of crops. 

Plants like fruit trees, for example, take years to be fully realized.

All this drives up cost.

“The question now is can vertical farms be scaled to a level where they deliver a food product at a price point that’s equitable,” says Teleskey. 

Another issue that came up in the study: food waste. 

As one of the biggest contributors to climate change, food waste not only produces methane gas, it squanders an enormous amount of water, and detracts from a producer’s revenue.

“There would likely be less waste in a vertically-integrated farm because you have a better chance of avoiding crop deterioration from fungal infections and other diseases,” Teleskey notes, adding, “You may also see artificial intelligence handling the harvest so that foods go to market at a better quality point.” 

From a consumer perspective, it’s safe to say many of us will be impacted. Year round availability of food to meet demand will not be sustainable under current conditions, and restaurants will lack convenient access to ingredients. 

“It will mean more expensive food, less variety in food and eventually less nutrition,” she says. “Not all California residents have equal access to healthy nutritious food, but if this future comes to pass, we will see even greater disparities.”

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