Day 10 – Wonders of Wheat

Today’s activities were led by Lisa (http://www.ucd.ie/plantpalaeo/keogh.html), who is investigating the effects of raised and lower levels of carbon dioxide on crop productivity, whilst also taking into account the effect of temperature on these. Initially, I wasn’t sure just how much could be garnered about the food industry from a starting point such as this:

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It was only when Lisa informed us that 2 out of every 5 calories consumed comes form wheat products that I sat up and start paying attention. Sure, I knew wheat and crops accounted for a huge food mass, but I had never really thought of it in numbers before. When I sat down this evening and thought of a typical day in terms of food, I suddenly could see what she meant: Weetabix for breakfast, possibly a pasta lunch or dinner, slice of toast in the evening… it is an incredibly interesting project that she is undertaking and one that really needs to see the results being put to correct use, otherwise we will end up in years to come seeing wheat as a treat!¬†

The plants here have been grown at various levels of CO2 and different temperatures, with productivity observed. Disturbingly, the atmospheric conditions that we may have in the not so far away future, point towards some mutant wheat strains and others with increased quantity but a decrease in quality in terms of food value.

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This is really worrying from a food economics point of view – if so much of our diet relies on wheat products, where do we turn to when we have forced them to become counter productive? What will our new staple be? Will the countries who aren’t ready for that kind of challenge suffer and see a potential modern famine like we had so long ago based around the humble spud? But then I think, there are famines all over the world anyway and we quite happily are not involved with them except to throw money in a bucket on the street every now and then. But if the whole world might be suffering, who will collect for who? Lisa really got us thinking today about how food economics needs to be studied and then double checked and then studied some more. The earth is providing us with all of these grains but the more we force them to do our bidding, “grow faster, be heavier, look a certain way”, the more likely they are to turn their backs on us and force us to look for an alternative that we may not have the resources to do. Plants, we need you, we’ll treat you better, please stay!

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