Show up to a summer barbecue in New England and there are a few things people can count on. The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. A tray of fresh, sliced watermelon, juicy and crisp, presented in perfect triangles. Maybe some local catch or a sampling of scallops or stuffed clams. For dessert? Ice cream, of course, or a slice of homemade blueberry pie.
We hate to rain on this parade, but some of our favorite summer foods could be affected by climate change in the near future. Here are four staples that could be hurt by rising temperatures over the next few years.
Lobster (and other shellfish)
The coveted New England lobster roll: Summer isn’t complete until you’ve had one.
But these delicious crustaceans are especially sensitive to temperature, preferring Maine’s chilly North Atlantic waters over southern New England’s. And for the last 50-or-so years, lobster populations have migrated north as the Gulf of Maine warms. We can expect that trend to continue.
Lobsters can remain happy and healthy in waters up to 68 degrees, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Exposure to warmer temperatures for long periods of time can cause issues for their respiratory and immune systems, and can lead to shell disease, when bacteria that normally live on a lobster begin to eat away at its shell, according to a Globe Spotlight report about how climate change is threatening the livelihood of Maine’s lobster fishermen. The disease is rare in Maine, but has become more common off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It’s only a matter of time before it creeps into Maine, too.
In 2021, University of Maine scientists found below-average numbers at baby lobster settlements in the Gulf of Maine, which is a continuing trend. However, a moderate uptick in baby lobsters was recorded in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, where fishermen in Canada harvest local lobsters.
Scallops and clams, which live on the ocean bottom and have limited mobility, are also vulnerable to climate change, according to NOAA. This could affect other decadent New England summertime staples like grilled bay scallops and clam chowder.
Chowing down on corn on the cob is both a chore and a summertime rite of passage. But global growth and production of the crop could be at risk because of rising temperatures, according to an Emory University study published in May. The study found that by the year 2100, the US Corn Belt of the upper Midwest could be “unsuitable” for cultivating corn, and growers will have to shift further north. The study said that “significant agricultural adaptation will be necessary and inevitable” in both central and eastern parts of the United States, and notes that agricultural and technological interventions can help.
The author of the study stressed the need for US agriculture systems to diversify beyond the major commodity crops: Corn, soy, wheat, hay, and alfalfa.
“One of the basic laws of ecology is that more diverse ecosystems are more resilient,” author Emily Burchfield said.
In 2018, Scientific American reported on a study that suggested warming temperatures will also cause corn yields to be less predictable from one year to the next, in addition to just being lower overall.
“This means the probability of major corn-producing regions experiencing a bad crop year all at the same time — an event that would significantly drive up corn prices around the world — substantially increases,” Scientific American reported.
Blueberry pie (with a scoop of ice cream?)
Blueberry pie is a warm weather staple in New England, especially in Maine, where it’s the official state dessert. But the weather might be getting too warm for it.
Last year, a group of University of Maine scientists found that Maine’s lush blueberry fields are imperiled by higher temperatures and drier conditions. Over the past 40 years, the scientists found, the wild blueberry fields of Down East Maine have seen a temperature increase of 1.3 Celsius (2.34 degrees Fahrenheit). That might not seem like a big jump, but it could be enough to draw more moisture out of the ground and leave the soil dry.
To make matters worse, though New England is expected to get wetter overall because of climate change, rain is becoming less consistent, especially in the summer. (This summer’s drought is an example.) That can dry out soil further, resulting in smaller crop sizes.
Summers without blueberries would leave many New Englanders feeling blue. Thankfully, the researchers found that by adopting new fertilizers and watering methods, Maine farmers might be able to adapt.
Coffee milk and coffee ice cream
New Englanders love cold, coffee-flavored treats. Last year, the grocery delivery company Instacart dug into its customer purchase data and found that coffee is the most-ordered ice cream flavor in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders also love their coffee milk — a cool beverage made by mixing coffee syrup into chilled milk, which is also, as of 1993, the state’s official beverage.
In our professional opinion, any coffee ice cream or coffee milk worth consuming will include real coffee. But growing coffee beans requires specific temperature, light, and humidity levels, and because of ecological shifts attributable to the climate crisis, those conditions are harder to come by, study after study shows.
Even when coffee crops survive changing climatic conditions, other research shows those conditions could make coffee taste worse. If we want to continue enjoying our favorite coffee treats — and getting our morning caffeine fixes — curbing greenhouse gas emissions is a good idea.
Brittany Bowker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @brittbowker and also on Instagram @brittbowker. Dharna Noor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.