Well, OK, that’s a little harsh, blaming it all on you like that. But apparently the increasing demand for pine nuts here in the US really is doing serious environmental damage. Most of the pine nuts imported into the US (and most pine nuts bought in the US are imported) come from the Korean pine, which grows in forests in eastern Russia. They’re cheaper than Italian pine nuts, so they’re a big seller.
The overcollection of those nuts for human consumption is, surprise, extremely bad news for those forests. The trees themselves are not a conservation risk at the moment (though that could change if pine nut harvesting reaches truly unsustainable levels), but many of the forests’ indigenous animals (including deer, boars, bears, and tigers) depend on the nuts (or on the animals that eat them) for food, and they’re not getting enough of them anymore:
The global demand is making this harvest unsustainable. The entire Korean pine ecosystem could collapse if it continues. We are already seeing the cracks appearing: The shortage of pine nuts in the forests may have contributed to recent incidents of starving bears roaming the streets — and even attacking residents — in Luchegorsk, a Russian town near the Chinese border.
The Korean pine nut pesto you eat today thus carries with it an unseen cost that could shatter an ecosystem bottom to top, seedling to tree, and chipmunk to tiger.
Obviously, people whose livelihoods depend on harvesting pine nuts for the American market aren’t going to stop doing that because of some starving bears, but when we’re talking about the potential collapse of an entire ecosystem, something needs to be done. The only ways to slow down this destructive harvest are for shoppers to find a new source of pine nuts (look for nuts from domestic pines, for example, or pay more for the fancy Italian ones) or another way to make their pesto or whatever else they make that uses pine nuts (I’m guessing, though maybe I’m totally wrong, that pesto is the big driver of the pine nut demand).
Me personally, I’m not a huge pesto fan (although it is really good on fish), but when I do make it I actually prefer using walnuts (and swapping out some/all of the basil for blanched kale, but now I’m digressing).
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