How could climate change affect European gastronomy?
FWEAPONS IN THE SOUTH Italy grows avocados and mangoes. Tropical creatures such as rabbitfish are appearing in Mediterranean nets. And Bordeaux winegrowers fear their Merlot grapes will disappear. Fifty years ago this would have been unthinkable. But since the early 1980s, rising temperatures have forced some farmers to swap grapes for passion fruit.
Italy and France have long been proud of their cuisine. Both countries jealously guard the rules that only ham made in Parma can be called “Prosciutto di Parma”, and only sparkling wine made in Champagne can be called champagne. Roquefort, the most famous of the blue cheeses, received special protection from the Parliament of Toulouse in 1550.
Having been grown in a famous place is traditionally considered a guarantee of quality. But climate change could disrupt that. Take polenta, a popular Italian dish made almost entirely from ground corn. High temperatures and drier weather have already reduced maize yields in southern Italy. If this pattern continues and spreads north, will Italian polenta makers have to order their corn elsewhere? And what about durum wheat, which grows abundantly in Mediterranean lands and is used to make pasta, pancakes and couscous? Modeling suggests that durum wheat yields will drop sharply there if the temperature continues to rise.
So should foodies be worried about the future of spaghetti? Gabriele Cola, a researcher at the University of Milan, is optimistic about the short term. âI don’t see any serious risks to crops because agriculture is better informed and technologically capable, so it can always react to changes,â he says. Increased irrigation can counter the effects of drought. Scientists can also select more resistant crop varieties.
But in the long run, a more profound change seems likely. If temperatures rise steadily, farmers in northern Europe might find they can grow southern staple foods; polenta could invade Germany. And southern locavores may have to adapt. If tropical fruits continue to thrive in Sicily, could ham and pineapple pizza one day be considered authentically Italian?
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This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Hot Cuisine”