Pasta Could Soon Disappear


pastaA world without pasta seems inconceivable. Mac-and-cheese-loving children across the United States would howl in protest. Italy might suffer a cultural heart attack. Social unrest could explode in northern China, where noodles are the main staple.

But if humans want to keep eating pasta, we will have to take much more aggressive action against global warming. Pasta is made from wheat, and a large, growing body of scientific studies and real-world observations suggest that wheat will be hit especially hard as temperatures rise and storms and drought intensify in the years ahead.

Hurricane Sandy’s recent devastation of New York and neighboring states reminded Americans of what Hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005: global warming makes weather more extreme, and extreme weather can be extremely dangerous. But flooding coastlines aren’t our only worry. Climate change is also imperiling the very foundation of human existence: our ability to feed ourselves.

Three grains-wheat, corn, and rice-account for most of the food humans consume. All three are already suffering from climate change, but wheat stands to fare the worst in the years ahead, for it is the grain most vulnerable to high temperatures. That spells trouble not only for pasta but also for bread, the most basic food of all. (Pasta is made from the durum variety of wheat, while bread is generally made from more common varieties, such as red spring.)

“Wheat is a cool-season crop. High temperatures are negative for its growth and quality, no doubt about it,” says Frank Manthey, a professor at North Dakota State University who advises the North Dakota Wheat Commission. Already, a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit of global temperature rise over the past 50 years has caused a 5.5 percent decline in wheat production, according to David Lobell, a professor at Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.

By 2050, scientists project, the world’s leading wheat belts-the U.S. and Canadian Midwest, northern China, India, Russia, and Australia-on average will experience, every other year, a hotter summer than the hottest summer now on record. Wheat production in that period could decline between 23 and 27 percent, reports the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), unless swift action is taken to limit temperature rise and develop crop varieties that can tolerate a hotter world.

“International agricultural research centers and the private sector have woken up to the fact that higher temperatures are almost inevitable and they have little in their genetic toolbox to deal with them,” says Gerald Nelson, a senior research fellow at IFPRI. “We are all worried.”

The record-breaking summer of 2012-which brought the hottest July in U.S. history and the worst drought in 50 years (a drought that continues to afflict 60 percent of the nation)-hints at what may lie ahead. Corn and soybean yields plummeted in 2012, driving up world food prices, increasing hunger, and triggering protests in Indonesia that recalled the street riots that afflicted dozens of nations after the last big food-price jump in 2007-08.

“We stressed our farm crops this year pretty strongly, and many of them almost folded,” says Jay Fuhrer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture extension agent in North Dakota. “Does that concern you as a consumer? It should.”

As it happens, North Dakota, where Doug Opland has been growing durum wheat since he was a kid, is one of the centers of global pasta production. North Dakota agriculture officials will tell you, accurately, that their state produces some of the highest-quality durum in the world, boasting both a high protein count and the pale golden color demanded by discriminating pasta lovers. Durum, after all, thrives under conditions of limited rainfall and cooler temperatures, and North Dakota boasts both. It is late October, but as Opland drives his pickup onto a 300-acre field where he grew durum last year, his tires leave tracks on a fresh dusting of snow.

“This is the new center of durum-wheat production in our state,” says Opland, a beefy 51-year-old who lives near the northwestern North Dakota town of Minot and sits on the board of directors of the U.S. Durum Growers Association. Durum used to be grown throughout North Dakota, but over the past 30 to 40 years, the growing zone has shifted farther west as weather conditions have changed. “Rainfall patterns have shifted,” explains Professor Manthey. “It’s become too wet in eastern North Dakota for durum.”


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  1. Your’e worried a about global warming and pasta? According to the Mayan calendar, the world is coming to and end Dec. 21!!!!
    Run to the alien mountain and save yourself. Make sure to bring along some past.

  2. Hilarious!

    There are two fatal assumptions in this article:

    1. Every machalah in the world today is caused by global warming and we are all gonna die immediately if not sooner if we don’t do something about it.

    2. Global warming is due to humans.

  3. It does not behoove a frum website to publish articles that tout global warming as a fact, especially since, in its most extreme versions, the issue of global warming is used as a “proof” for atheism.

  4. Dear Mr. Reality Check:

    I was having difficulty following your argument and would appreciate if you could explain it.

    You are saying that because some use global warming as “proof” for atheism, global warming therefore cannot be a reality?

    In other words, because we deny atheism, we must also deny global warming?

  5. terll me dear friends, how is global warming, shown by statistical and physical data, contrary to ANYTHING in torah? has it snowed yet?

    you wouldnt want a secular scientist to give you commentary on a sugya of gemureh or shach and taz thaat he has no ideawhat it entails…

    so too you all dont know a thing about science or climate change. all you know about it is right-wing spin… climate change is almost universally accepted by all politicians and scientists save a small minority.

  6. Trust in Hashem and everything will be alright. Leave the worrying to Him. (Right now there’s more to more to worry about than bread and pasta. Maybe Iran will bomb the world and there’ll be no more people to eat pasta.)

  7. HAHA!!! i was laughing so hard that i cud barely read the article!! i luv when people worry about “important” things like this. It shows they bh have nothing more important to worry about!!!

  8. Even if what the article says is true (questionable), why couldn’t wheat growing move north, to colder areas, should current growing areas too warm for it?