Your favorite foods are at risk from a rapidly warming planet

Avocados, coffee, and more could be subject to change—from how they’re grown to when we eat them.

Photograph by REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF

Even in the best growing conditions—with moderate weather, predictable rainfall, and rounded seasons—growing food is hard. Add in climate volatility, erratic floods, and frequent drought, and the entire food system becomes an equation of anxiety, hope, and in some regions, dread. “We have a climate change threat to our food system and not many strategies to deal with it,” says Michael Puma of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

What will that mean for our plates? Global commodities such as corn and wheat are susceptible to dramatic shifts in growing regions and crop output. The UN says that without strategies for adapting, lower staple yields will lead to shortages and increased prices for human and livestock consumption, hitting developing tropical countries the hardest. More charismatic foods, like the ones shown here, will morph in appearance, nutritional value, availability, and price as growing regions shift and farmers turn to warm-weather crops. Longer growing seasons are generally good news for farmers and plants, but lack of rainfall or insufficient cold weather could stunt even the best-laid seeds and plans.

Innovation will be part of foods’ evolution, in the field and in the lab. Seed breeding and gene editing are helping some fruits and vegetables grow faster and bigger to outrun a season’s heightened probability of flood or drought. Other technologies help food last longer to be shipped farther, in some cases not requiring refrigeration at all.

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