Meet the Food Engineers of the Apocalypse

I hope you like beans. Eater explains why they are the future of food, post-Apocalypse:

When the apocalypse comes, what’s for dinner? Multiple studies indicate that if global warming continues at the current rate, we’re likely to see vast swaths of our food supply vanish. Scientists at UC Davis found that fruit and nut trees rely on a stretch of cold temperatures in order to grow. No more chilly nights would mean no more almonds, apricots, or cherries, among other crops. Other researchers have found that we will also be saying goodbye to cold-water fishmaple syrupbeerpeanut butter, and possibly grains and livestock.

Mr Beans

But while this may sound like the kind of question you’d arrive at in a late night dorm room munchies session, it’s also the question that motivates a handful of scientists to show up for work every morning. Call them the food engineers of the apocalypse, these are people who have moved beyond the question of how to stop global warming. They’ve assumed that we’ve all failed, the earth is really hot, now what do we eat? The answer, for better or for worse, is beans.

Earlier this year, scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) announced that they had discovered 30 different types of beans that would be able to withstand global warming. The beans will be able to grow in a world where water is scarce, and where temperatures have risen worldwide by up to seven degrees Fahrenheit.

The research center responsible for the discovery is a bean-centric place. With facilities in Colombia and across three sites in Africa, the bean program has been running for 45 years; currently, 18 scientists are working on making the food both more nutritional and resilient. For much of the world, beans offer cheap access to protein, so ensuring their survival is less about ensuring chili stays on restaurant menus and more about preventing malnutrition and starvation.

Based on the products of these greenhouses, a handful of beans may be the power food of the future.

The work that led to CIAT’s development of the heat-beater beans originally started as an effort to develop a crop that could tolerate poor soils and drought — efforts that have been underway in one form or another for much of the bean program’s existence. But the team rapidly added research in heat tolerance because, well, it was hot out. “When we worked with our climate experts, it became evident that within a couple generations the bean crop could be severely limited in the area where it could be planted,” said Steve Beebe, head of CIAT’s bean breeding program. “So it raised a red flag about the necessity to start attending to this.”

Beebe’s lab is housed in a research campus just outside of the sprawling city of Cali in Valle de Cauca, Colombia. With multiple dining rooms, a library, a gym, and a guest house, it sounds a little like Google for plants. Beebe travels frequently between the campus, where beans are grown in greenhouses that allow his team to control temperature, and bean plots on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. And based on the products of these greenhouses and plots, a handful of beans may be the power food of the future…

[continues at Eater]


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