By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
A few years ago, there was a shift in the horror genre of American entertainment, from vampires to the zombie apocalypse. I was recently made aware of a far scarier, and realistic, doomsday: the “beepocalypse.”
Typically when I write about certain food items, I have a fair amount of preexisting knowledge. Yes, I do my diligence on mushrooms or huckleberries, but by and large, through much time spent in this industry, I have a fair base of knowledge of said food item.
I’ve always been fascinated by the delicate balance of bees, pollen, pollination and flowers and as we approach warmer weather in southwest Montana, I had what I thought was sufficient material to write about the subject. I was wrong.
Pollination is the act of transferring pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma, but it is far more complex than a honeybee pollinating a flower.
The flower color and shape determines what creature pollinates it, or the plant has evolved those traits based on what pollinates it. Referred to as pollination syndrome, it’s so reliable that humans can predict, with very little error, what type of insect or creature will pollinate a flower or plant based on its appearance.
Plants and flowers are pollinated by everything from beetles and hummingbirds to butterflies and even bats, but the majority is done by, well, “worker bees.”
One example of this symbiosis is the fig tree. In tropical climates, there are more than 900 species of figs, and each one of those has evolved with its very own individual species of fruit wasp to pollinate it.
But in our efforts to keep unwanted insects away and create larger, more fruitful flowers and plants, or the “perfect” flower, our use of pesticides has become detrimental to, not the savior of, one of nature’s most important relationships.
We are trying to engineer better plants, so we increase the potency of our chemicals, which in turn begins killing the very insects we need.
So what about that beepocalypse? It kind of sounds like Jeff Goldblum’s character in the film “Jurassic Park,” as he describes the tumultuous nature of humans and dinosaurs suddenly coexisting. The irony to me is that we make a fictional movie about two life forms that do not belong together, yet in reality, we are destroying a very impactful relationship between two species—and we are the common lifeform in both scenarios.
The entire Sichuan province of China has lost its bees due to excessive insecticide use. This means that in China’s self-proclaimed pear capital of the world, humans are pollinating these trees on their own. On a perfect day, a human can pollinate as many as 10 trees. That sounds pretty impressive, until you realize one bee can visit 5,000 flowers in a single day.
If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stick with the “bee team.”
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.