Truffles: A canary in the environmental coal mine?

Global warming + Acid rain = Disappearing wild foods

While there’s a lot of debate about global warming, I know firsthand that the planet is changing in significant ways. How? I’ve been in the truffle business since 1983. In that time, I’ve feared – and watched –the wild truffle struggle for survival. Under siege by climate change and water/soil/air toxins, truffles can either adapt, or die off.

Wild things only grow when they have a clean environment. Many have survived for millions of years in specialized geographic locations. It turns out mushrooms, both above and below ground, are so far unable to adapt to acid rain, one result of a heavily industrialized environment.

Above-ground mushrooms are the first to fail. After that, the truffles, growing 8—20” below the ground, cannot withstand the bad groundwater. They are not protected by the soil, where the truffle spores attach themselves to tree roots. The effects of acid rain can slow or completely spoil the crop.

Sometimes I think truffles confirm the fact that climate change is global. Production in traditional truffle forests in Spain, Italy and France has been slowing down to a crawl for years. For example, in 1965, Spain harvested 150,000 kilos of black winter truffles for domestic and export markets. They came from many different wild regions throughout the country.

Today, the Spanish truffle business is reduced to barely a whisper. And white truffles may be extinct in Italy in ten years. Truffles are so delicate and vulnerable that they perform as one reliable canary in our global mine shaft. Their demise across traditional production areas is telling: something big is very wrong.

Truffles need four seasons, but these days southern Europe only has two: winter and summer. Remember a few summers ago across Italy, France and Spain, when many older people—grandparents who were home in the city while their kids were away in the country or at the seaside for a month—died when a brutal heat wave infested the region with nearly three weeks of merciless heat? All living things (people included) need four seasons to thrive.

At the end of May 2007, Moscow experienced its own severe high temperatures. Summer was not only early, but hotter than the high season… in May. The boiling hot days, and boiling hot nights, and flash floods that are becoming the norm across southern/central Europe have also nearly ended mushroom production in the Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria.)

I hope, and some days I believe we will reverse global warming (see Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth) with a truly international effort. But even if we are successful, there will be many wild plants we will not be able to restore.

Still, there are a few reasons to be encouraged. Truffles are being found in some highly unexpected places. We’re already starting to find truffles in Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Croatia; in Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Russian lake region; and in the Himalayan lowlands — Tibet, India and Szechuan. These previously cold regions have warmed into a milder climate. They all feature intact old growth forests. And they have no heavy industry.

I encourage all readers and truffle lovers to enjoy your wild foods with a truly thankful heart, and, and, and, to do what you can to make sure we reverse our impact on our world – and our palates.


alotstuff said...

nice blog.....

Filip Jovceski said...

So are they black or white truffles in counties such as Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Croatia. etc?

thanks in advance.