What losing bees means to the foods we love

Think for a moment about all the good foods you love and the memories associated with them. I know for me, I love the foods that my grandma used to make and eat. But what if all those beloved foods suddenly started to disappear and become out of reach?  

The foods that we know and love all come from somewhere, and for fruits, nuts and vegetable pollination is essential. Unfortunately, with rising temperatures around the globe, the insects responsible for pollination are at risk. Bumblebees and honeybees in particular are in danger.  They are responsible for the pollination of around 80% of the world’s flowering plants (the rest rely on wind, water or other animals), of which a large portion constitutes food we eat.

But when scientists from the British Ecological Society compared four species of bumblebees to older preserved bees, they discovered that various environmental stresses—such as temperature or pesticides—affect bees’ genes, specifically the ones that are responsible for the development of bees’ symmetrical features. This is extremely worrying, as bees rely heavily on air travel to live and perform tasks. Even a slight deformity could prove fatal.  

And it is not just bees that are affected. Scientists have already found similar deformities in other pollinators like butterflies. So what does this mean for the future of food? Without pollination, plants are unable to produce seeds to reproduce. This means that many plant species are at risk of dying out, taking other animals up the food chain with them. Humans’ diets would change drastically, removing all fruits and most meat. Only grains like wheat, rice and barley would remain, since they rely on wind pollination to seed. 

And while bees may not go extinct immediately, the decline in their population will eventually dent food prices, making organic produce slowly lose its affordability. This is bad news for many cultural foods from any background, as many of our favorite dishes are created out of foods that used to be cheap. With time, it is entirely possible that we will lose the ability to eat the foods we love. 

So what efforts are being made to help the bees? Some countries around the world are doing their part by banning certain types of pesticides used on crops. Not only that, in the gardening community, it is becoming increasingly popular to include safe havens for bees like bee homes—which are made specifically for wild bees as they do not create their own hives—and designated puddles of water for bees to drink from, especially for hot and dry areas such as our city. Efforts are being made to protect the bees, big and small. Things are not entirely hopeless. 

We should not have to imagine a future where our favorite foods are lost to time. For me, with the Chinese holiday mid-autumn festival (中秋節) just around the corner, my family is starting to prepare and buy traditional foods like mooncakes and pomelos, both of which are derived from plants. Mooncakes are filled with red bean or lotus bean paste and the pomelo is a large citrus fruit and ripe around this season. Foods like these all require the work of bees and pollination to exist. Even this example is just a small glimpse into the intricacies of food production and how personal food is to us.  

But we will not wake up one day and suddenly see that every food on Earth is suddenly extinct. It is a process that happens slowly over the course of time—the decreasing bee population is just the beginning. There is still time to save the bees and the food they help create. Nothing is a lost cause and hopefully, the next generation of children can grow up eating the same foods that we love today. 


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