This is why we can’t have nice things: How biodiversity affects what we eat

As human’s impact on the planet increases, ingredients that were once abundant are dwindling. Some species face extinction, either because of human consumption or habitat changes, and other ingredients have too much of a negative impact on the planet to harvest in large quantities. On the flip side, some invasive species are becoming so plentiful that the best thing we can do for the environment is to eat them. 

This edition of Weekly Bites summarizes three stories of ingredients whose availability is impacted by climate change and human interference. 

The culinary industry has a large part to play in our cultural perception of what ingredients are “luxuries,” and what ingredients are not so desirable. Lobsters used to be considered a poor person’s food, but are now found on most fine dining menus. It’s up to the culinary changemakers to showcase how more environmentally responsible proteins can be delicacies, so we can start to shift our consumption patterns to have less of a negative impact on the planet. 

Vegan honey is sweeter for biodiversity  

Many people have been concerned about the drop in bee activity over the past few years, but did you know that honeybees are actually partly responsible for the disappearance of other species of bees? Luckily, one lab has the solution. 

Honeybees have a negative effect on biodiversity, because they push out other bee populations. Of course we love honeybees for producing the sweet, sweet nectar that is honey, so why should we care if they replace all other bees? The problem is that honeybees are only capable of pollinating a very limited amount of flowers. Without the help of other bees, we’ll struggle to grow the food we need. 

Honey is a $9 billion dollar industry, and most of that is not small local farmers and beekeepers. The U.S. imports 70% of its honey, and the import process is certainly not carbon neutral. Another major issue with the honey industry is that it’s rife with fraud. “Because of its simple composition, it can be easily diluted with plain sugar or other sweetened syrups—a cheap way to make it go further,” shares Larissa Zimberoff of Bon Appétit. 

So what’s the solution to these not-so-sweet problems? MeliBio, a food lab in Oakland, California, is producing lab-grown vegan honey. They make their honey from fructose and glucose harvested from fruits and vegetables. To mimic the floral aroma of honey, MeliBio adds in compounds from plants that bees typically pollinate — such as squash blossom, hibiscus, and olive. Some say that the taste and texture is just like honey. Not to mention that vegan honey also has some of the same antioxidants found in regular honey. Vegan honey is a win-win-win solution. It allows newborns and pregnant people to enjoy honey, it doesn’t require the use of honeybees, and it is much easier to regulate. 

Part of the appeal of honey is that it has an incredible sense of terroir. Honey from around the world tastes different according to what plants the bees are pollinating. Honey in Scotland tastes sweetly of heather, while honey from the lavender fields in Provence contain a whisper of lavender aroma. These local flavors cannot (or should not) be reproduced in a lab, but there may be room for both kinds of honey. The issues with honey are not found in the small farmers and beekeepers. If we could just replace our more commercial consumption of honey with vegan honey, it could allow local honey producers to continue producing honey without contributing negatively to biodiversity. 

Will you think of the frogs?! 

So much of our perception of luxury and fine dining comes from French cuisine, and the consumption of frog legs is no exception. 

The problem is, that our consumption of those deliciously delicate chicken-tasting frog legs comes at a cost. The European Union imported up to 2 billion frogs for consumption between 2011-2020, and a frog species in Turkey is facing extinction because of it. 

Frogs play an important role in the ecosystem because they kill off lots of bugs. And how do we repay them? By eating them. In places where frogs are disappearing, the use of toxic pesticides is increasing, which then negatively affects other species. Eating frog legs doesn’t just lead to the extinction of frogs, but also negatively affects the environment as a whole. 

For once, the U.S. doesn’t seem to be the major contributor to the frog crisis. The U.S. imports frogs from Mexico, Ecuador, and China, with most of the supply being farmed instead of wild-caught. In the EU, however, it’s a different story. Indonesia, Vietnam, and Turkey are the largest suppliers of frogs to the EU, and as we mentioned above, a report indicates that a frog species in Turkey will become extinct as early as next year if things remain the same. 


Perhaps if we changed our perception of frog legs, we can reduce global consumption — or at least focus on locally available frogs. In Louisiana, frog legs are a delicacy, but Louisianians don’t ship them from overseas. They catch them in swamps and serve them only when available.

Eat this fish, the Great Lakes are begging you

When talking about how climate change affects ingredient availability, the message is usually to eat less of a threatened species. This story is a little different — it’s the story of a fish you should eat as much as possible of, in order to save an ecosystem. 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources are trying to #rebrand a fish, because they desperately want people to curb the population by eating them off. 

The Asian carp is a freshwater fish that was imported into the U.S. in the 1970s to eat invasive algae and clean up catfish ponds. Since then, the fish have escaped their designated areas and taken over the Illinois and Missouri rivers. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources say it’s just a matter of time until they take over the Great Lakes, which would decimate local fish populations. 

Of course the natural solution is to reduce the fish population by eating them, but the Asian carp has unfairly suffered a bad reputation as a dirty and undesirable fish. In response, the Department of Natural Resources is proposing a rebrand, renaming the Asian carp… Copi. 

The name Copi is derived from the word copious, which is a not-so-subtle hint of the problem at hand. Former Chopped champion and Chicago chef Ina Mae Tavern says, “Copi is more savory than tilapia, cleaner tasting than catfish, and firmer than cod. It’s the perfect canvas for creativity — pan fried, steamed, broiled, baked, roasted or grilled. Copi can be ground for burgers, fish cakes, dumplings and tacos.”

Have we convinced you to add this fish to your menu? Not only is it less expensive than other fish, but by adding Copi to the menu you can offer a delicious new protein AND do good for the environment. 

What are some ways you can pivot to more environmentally healthy ingredients?  


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