Former White House chef says climate change will make products like coffee, wine 'largely unavailable'

Like millions of other people living on Earth, former White House chef Sam Kass is worried about climate change and how it will shape the future of food. 

Kass, who served as the primary chef of the Obama family in the White House warned that a number of the world's most valuable commodities will be "largely unavailable" in the next several decades. 

"A number of foods that we hold very dear to our hearts and largely take for granted are under a real threat," Kass told PEOPLE on Dec. 6. "And you're seeing in the future, we're on track for a lot of those to become quite scarce and some really to be largely unavailable to most people and others just significantly increased in cost."

These products include consumable goods most Americans wouldn't dream of disappearing from shelves. These include everyday pantry items like wine, chocolate, coffee and rice. 

"Food and agriculture is the number two driver of greenhouse gas emissions globally and uses about 70% of the world's waters. It's the number one driver of deforestation, land use change. It's really at the center of a lot of these environmental issues," Kass added. 

Kass is calling for a massive change in the industries that produce these goods. He says the very infrastructure of agriculture must change in order to adapt to the inevitable changes that climate change presents. 

"Food and agriculture is the only real opportunity that we have to sequester enough carbon on the scale that science is telling us, within the time horizon that the science is saying we have, and that's really unique to food and agriculture," Kass explained. 

In August, a drought forced the earliest harvest ever in France's most celebrated wine regions. 

The harvest that typically begins in mid-September had happened earlier than ever — in mid-August — as a result of severe drought and the wine industry’s adaptation to the unpredictable effects of climate change.

Paradoxically, this past season of heat waves and wildfires produced excellent grapes, despite lower yields. But achieving such a harvest required creative changes in growing techniques, including pruning vines in a different way and sometimes watering them in places where irrigation is usually banned. And producers across Europe who have seen first-hand the effects of global warming are worried about what more is to come.

So far, "global warming is very positive. We have better ripeness, better balance. ... But if you turn to the future, and if you increase the temperature by one degree more, plus, you will lose the freshness part in the balance of the wine," said Fabien Teitgen, technical director of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, an estate that grows organic wine grapes in Martillac, south of Bordeaux.

As for coffee, the industry will see many changes in the coming decades, according to the "Future of Coffee" report published last month by 

Demand will continue to grow worldwide, especially for high-quality beans, even as the effects of climate change seriously threaten traditional supply routes.

For more than 40 years, Jean Baptiste Saleyo has farmed cocoa on several acres of his family’s land in Ivory Coast, a West African nation that produces almost half the world’s supply of the raw ingredient used in chocolate bars.

But this year Saleyo says the rains have become unpredictable, and he fears his crop could be yet another victim of climate change.

"When it should have rained, it didn’t, it didn’t rain," Saleyo said as he inspected the ripeness of one of his cocoa pods. "It’s raining now, but its already too late."

Cocoa farming employs nearly 600,000 farmers here in Ivory Coast, ultimately supporting nearly a quarter of the country’s population — about 6 million people, according to the Coffee-Cocoa Council.

And it makes up about 15% of Ivory Coast’s national GDP, according to official figures.

National production remains on track because the amount of land being cultivated is on the rise. But experts say small-scale farmers are hurting this year. For the cocoa tree to fruit well, rains need to come at the right times in the growing cycle. Coming at the wrong times risks crop disease.

Some who are used to producing 500 kilograms are looking at only 200 kilograms this year, said Jean Yao Brou, secretary-general of the Anouanze cooperative, which helps farmers bring their crops to markets.

"Our producers have big worries with the production," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.