Darling, how do you feel about kiwis? Not the people or the birds. The fruit. They’re on sale this week at my local grocery store. I like to eat them whole – the weirdo hairy peel is my favorite part.
What about watermelons? It’ll be hot again soon here in Texas – attacking a ruby watermelon on a hot day, feeling the juice run down my chin and seeing how far I can spit the smooth black seeds is an essential memory of my childhood.
Are you a fan of berries? Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries? Snozzberries? I always buy them for smoothies and then just eat them by themselves. Sometimes I pour them into a bowl first, but usually not.
I’m over the whole pumpkin craze, but then, it’s a while before autumn hits. I bet that, by September, I’ll be craving all things pumpkin again (except Pumpkin Spice Lattes – I’m not that girl). One of the only impressive dishes I can make is a bread pudding in a roasted pumpkin. It always gets an appreciative “ooooh” at dinner parties.
And I’ll bet you enjoy at least one of the following: cherries, plums, peaches, zucchini, cucumbers, apples or mangoes. And if you live anywhere where tacos and guacamole are on the menu, you would grieve the end of avocados.
Look, this is not a food blog. I’m not really a foodie. But imagine all the recipes that contain these foods. Imagine what you could not make without them. Since I work at a natural cosmetics company, I’m struck by how many cosmetic products would be significantly less plumping, less brightening and all-around less effective without the benefit of these enzyme and vitamin-rich ingredients.
All of these fruits and vegetables have one thing in common: their main pollinator is bees. Many foods depend to some extent on insect pollinators, but the above examples are all intrinsically dependent upon them. If bees go extinct, all of these beautiful foods, packed with nutrients and brimming with flavor, will disappear from our produce aisles. We’ll be back to bread and cheese, boo. Medieval.
On September 30, 2016, seven species of Hawaiian bees were added to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list. This is the first time ever that any kind of bee has been added to the list. This doesn’t mean that all bees are now endangered. But it is a significant moment for the world’s food supply, 75% of which depends at least partially on pollination to flourish (including cotton, chocolate and, oh Jesus, COFFEE).
It isn’t just in Hawaii that bees are under threat. In February of 2016, a U.N.-sponsored report that drew on almost 3,000 scientific papers concluded that about 40% of the world’s invertebrate pollinator species (including bees and butterflies) are facing extinction. It’s not only chefs and gourmands who should be worried. These crops are big, big business: between $235 billion and $577 billion annual global value.
As is usually the case, the slow extinction of pollinator species is a complex problem. They are affected by changes in land use and intensive agricultural practices (aka monoculture farming in giant corporate fields), invasive species, diseases and pests, climate change and pesticide use.
The most widely used class of insecticides in both the United States and the world is one called neonicotinoids or neonics. These neuro-active insecticides are chemically similar to nicotine and, though they cause little toxicity in birds and mammals, they have been under increasing scrutiny since the 1990s for the effects that they have on bees and butterflies. Even low amounts of contact may impact bees’ ability to remember routes to and from food sources (aka pollination trails).
Neonicotinoid use has been linked in a range of studies to adverse ecological effects, including honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). Though neonics can poison bees, giving them convulsions, they more often confuse the bees so badly that they simply never return to the hive. Instead, they are doomed to wander until they finally die alone on the grass, separated from their colony and unable to feed their queen’s larvae or do any of the necessary tasks intrinsic to a healthy hive. Simply put, the use of these insecticides is toxic to bees and leads to their death and to the death of the hive, which will in time lead to the decline and loss of many of our favorite foods, flowers and herbs.
So, what can you do to help? First, buy organic whenever possible. Look, I know organic food is more expensive and sometimes hard to find. But foods treated with pesticides (and very likely with neonics, since they’re the world’s most popular class of insecticide) have very real effects on our environment. Little decisions sometimes lead to big changes. Support the big change away from neonicotinoids whenever you can. Raise your voice with your money, which is a form of communication that corporations and politicians understand.
Second, support organizations that are urging the EPA to ban neonics. My personal favorite is Environment Texas (www.environmenttexas.org), but there are various charities working toward this goal. And they’ve secured some very real results: several states have already taken action to limit the use of neonics, including Maryland and Minnesota. In 2013, the European Union restricted neonicotinoid use and a few non-EU counties followed suit. Change is happening – it’s not too late to reverse course.
Last, do some research on your own. There’s a lot to learn here but it’s not necessary to understand the chemical structure of these pesticides or to read every single paper that’s been published on them. It can be as simple as a google search. NPR, Mother Jones, the BBC and various other respected news organizations have reported widely on this topic (which, by the way, are the sources I used for this blog entry). Even the Wikipedia page on neonics is a good place to begin.
Good luck, and god save the bees.