“Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments” – Bethenny Frankel
There’s an old Celtic myth about a creature called a “just-halver”. Eat what you want, and the parasitic fairy takes a sizable portion for its own sustenance as you gradually waste away. It’s basically a preternatural tapeworm. Death by malnutrition when you eat copious amounts seems a bit unfair, and since it ultimately results in your death, it shouldn’t be considered as a new fad diet.
As usual, human hubris eventually recapitulates the consequences that folklore warned us about. It turns out you soon may have plenty of food, but sadly you won’t be able to survive on it.
You see, there’s lots more CO2 in the air these days. Yay! Plants love carbon dioxide. They get crazy with the vegetative growth thing when there is an abundance of it in their atmosphere. This means bumper crops from here on out.
Unfortunately, a few (a pathetically few) scientists have started to notice an alarming trend. When CO2 goes up, plant growth increases impressively, but less of the essential nutrients that make food, well, food, are present in it.
So, I don’t want to suggest we’re all going to die, wasting away from malnutrition. I don’t want to suggest that. But, we’re all going to die slowly wasting away through malnutrition.
Now, you’re probably thinking this is just another of my fringe apocalyptic scenarios (given the state of the world these days, who really needs to invent them), but don’t take my word for it. Ask people who know about plankton.
Plankton, you say? What does that have to do with the price of soylent green in China? Plankton are small, but deadly, and Have spent millennia plotting your doom. Just kidding. Plankton are largely unaware of your existence, unless you have them in a lab, and then probably think they are on a spa holiday (depending on the nature of the experiment). Pump them full of extra carbon dioxide and it’s probably like a tiny version of a Grateful Dead concert.
And curious if plankton would spontaneously indulge in a seventeen minute jam or develop a tie-dyed fan base that followed them around the ocean, this is just what some concerned scientists did.
A 2015 study of phytoplankton (what we commonly refer to as algae), published in the November issue of Science, had already noted a tenfold increase in the abundance of single-cell coccolithophores between 1965 and 2010, largely attributed to quickly rising levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans. This is of course a climatological “canary in the coal mine”, indicating that the oceans are absorbing much higher levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Now, the optimist will point out that more phytoplankton, absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, must be a good thing, since ultimately, the little buggers die, and sink to the bottom of the ocean where the nasty CO2 that we keep pumping into the air get sequestered. Great, right? Not so much.
You see, zooplankton (the animal verion of phytoplankton) survive by eating algae. If you take your phytoplankton, shine lots of light on it, and feed it as much carbon dioxide as it can stomach, it blooms prodigiously, growing faster and flourishing. One would think this would make zooplankton very happy, as their primary food source was rapidly increasing. Unfortunately, a Ph.D. mathematician turned biologist and prophet of doom named Irakli Loladze noticed some ill omens. Rather than thirving on the new algae buffet, the zooplankton seemed to be starving to death due to a diet lacking in essential nutrients.
The problem is that while rising CO2 spurs rapid algae growth, it also forces the algae to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients, biologically useful stuff like protein, iron and zinc. Basically, the algae was turning into junk food.
Perhaps you don’t care about phytoplankton or zooplankton, and if they develop an obesity problem or starve to death from malnutrition, well, honestly, what have they done for you lately? We’re not big fans of the single-cellular in general. They’re so basic.
You’re probably thinking you can live with less phytoplankton in your diet, so the fact that there are starving zooplankton in the world no doubt won’t make you clean your plate. But hold on there cowpoke. Argicultural researchers have started to recognize that pretty much every plant on earth makes more sugar and stores less of those vital nutrients when the carbon dioxide levels start rising in the atmosphere.
In fact the December 2004 Journal of the American College of Nutrition analyzing “Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999” found statistically reliable declines in minerals, vitamin and protein content in many of the worlds most important foods and staple crops. Calcium, zinc, potassium, iron, and vitamin C have dropped precipitously in many fruits and vegetables since 1950. Mostly this has been written off as a function of what we choose to grow, breeding for yeild rather than nutrition, but as was observed with the phytoplankton and zooplankton, that was not the whole story.
Our favorite foods worldwide such as rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes are showing substantial declines in protein content. Our vegetables are storing up less minerals and vitamins. The result? A planetwide problem with increasing obesity and cardiovascular disease (higher sugar content in most plant foods), anemia (iron deficiency), weak bones (from calcium deficiency), and a whole host of other problems resulting from the absence or limited amounts of micronutrients necessary to sustain a healthy life. On the bright side, over the next few generations, all these mineral and vitamin deficiencies in our foods will probably result in a stunting of our cognitive development, thus as the end approaches we will probably eventually just be too stupid to notice. The pessemist would argue that if you look around at the world, this has probably already happened.
If your not already convinced we live in an absurd universe, consider the fact that the apocalypse will likely be the human race starving to death amidst an abundance of food. There are certainly ways to avoid this fate, but most folks fail to heed the wise words of Mark Twain, who said, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not”.
Strangely, I have a sudden craving for fast food.