Monday, April 25, 2011

A Dinner on the Brink of Destruction

About two weeks ago, I regaled you with the story of the Vanishing of the Bees. As if to prove this was an issue that merited my attention, another article came across my radar in March's issue of National Geographic Magazine. Through its usual array of breathtaking images, the magazine reminds us that recent declines and threats to pollinators (including bees, birds, bats, and small mammals) rock the foundation of many of our fruit and nut crops. Last time I wrote about possible causes for colony collapse disorder (CCD), particularly systematic pesticides, parasites, or a combination, but apparently the debate goes on.

Pollination 101
We're not going to dwell on the blame game of what is killing off the bees. Instead, I thought we could explore the magic that is pollination (in a very unscientific way). Plants produce pollen, contain half of a genetic makeup (essentially the equivalent to sperm). Because our leafy friends a rooted to the ground, they can't reproduce as animals. So, they rely on elements like wind or critters like insects and birds to transfer pollen from one flower to another. A pollen grain will then fertilize the ovary of its new host flower, which over time develops a seed (fetal plant?) and a fleshy exterior. This juicy fruit is your apple, peach, or plum and the seed is your almond, walnut, or cashew.

Some plants are generalist, while others seem to have been carefully designed to perfectly match a specific moth, etc. Now note, not every flower becomes a fruit; some flowers are only that, but they do need to pollen to produce seeds. Almonds, grown throughout California, are one of those crops mentioned in the article that are pollinated exclusively by honey bees. However, there are many other plant-based food items that rely on pollinators to produce fruits. Zucchini and squashes, tomatoes, and asparagus fall under this category.

The Meal
Well, I made a very precarious dish (in terms of pollinators, at least) this evening. For this month's SOS Kitchen Challenge, I barely squeaked by. Asparagus only surfaced about a week ago at the farmers market in DC, so haven't had too much time to play with it. And since I have been eating raw this week, it was not on the time of my veggie list. Then tonight, I decided to make a colorful meal of...
Zucchini Linguini Primavera alla Asparagi
1 zucchini, julienned or spiralized
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup asparagus tops
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt to taste

1. Toss all ingredients together and let "marinate" for about 30 minutes. Once again, it's that easy. Consume!

Hopefully, my fresh veggie (and fruit) "pasta" doesn't represent a dying breed. The NGM article wasn't too uplifting, ending on a note of imminent doom and loss (goodbye chocolate). But Claire Kremen, researcher at UC Berkeley, offers up some solutions. Many of these require a shift in our approach to agriculture - limiting pesticides, diversifying crops and surrounding vegetation, and cultivating more bee/wildlife-friendly habitat. Not another technological bandaid, staving off the larger collapse of a system, but a restructuring of the system as a whole. Now, that's something worth cultivating.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one fascinated, and concerned, by the decline in pollinators. Scary stuff, but also really interesting.