Without bees, no cheeseburger in paradise

Why should I worry about bees and pollination if I like to eat hamburgers? Oh sure, I enjoy an occasional apple. Cherry’s my favorite pie. They tell me vegetables are good for me, but according to TV, we really don’t need to eat them — instead just drink V8.

But just imagine a scrumptious meal that includes a hamburger, fries and a soft drink. Try to picture it clearly in your mind.

(Now sit down until we’re through. Then you can go get one.)

Cows eat hay, which is often dried alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Alfalfa requires seed to grow, and alfalfa flowers are pollinated by bees to make the seed. Oh yeah, speaking of seeds, don’t you prefer sesame seeds on your hamburger buns? Sesame seeds come from sesame plants (Sesamum indicum) and are pollinated by bees.

Though mustard seeds (Brassica juncea) may be larger than my faith, they are certainly tiny. But grind enough mustard seed up and you get mustard. What’s a hamburger without mustard? Seeds come from pollinated plants. Do you begin to see a pattern here?

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) seed, onion (Allium cepa) seed and mayonnaise seed all come from plants pollinated by bees. Well, OK, there really isn’t a mayonnaise plant. Mayonnaise is a combination of oil, egg yolk, vinegar and lemon juice. However, chickens eat seeds, and many oil plant sources must be pollinated. Vinegar is acetic acid derived from spoiled wines that come from fruit, which has to be pollinated. Citrus plants must also be pollinated.

Oh yeah, and there are those pickles, my wife’s favorite part of her hamburger. Of course, pickles are just embalmed cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), and cucumbers are the fruit from bee pollinated flowers grown from cucumber seeds. I actually first got into bees because the tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) in my garden weren’t producing very well, and I noticed that there were fewer bees than there used to be. Ketchup is just pureed Solanum. Some folks even like a slice of Solanum on the burger in addition to the ketchup.

Did you know that tomatoes and potatoes belong to the same group of plants?  The Solanum are commonly called Nightshades. However, the unique potatoes that are usually served with burgers, called french fries, are cooked in oil. Interestingly, the oil most used today is canola oil, which comes from a canola plant, Brassica napus. If that name looks familiar it is because this is the same genus that produces mustard. Oh, by the way, to grow both potatoes and canola requires seed, which in turn requires pollination and bees.

As Lyle Lovett sings, “Please, if it’s not too late, make it a cheeseburger.” Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from cows, cows eat plants like alfalfa to make the milk, and alfalfa has to be pollinated, to “build the house that Jack built.”

What would a burger be without a soft drink? Coca-Cola initially was sold as a patent medicine that contained extracts from the coca (Erythroxylum coca) plant, including cocaine. I don’t know the secret ingredients of colas today, but you can bet that many soft drinks owe their flavoring to a pollinated plant source such as strawberry, cherry, lemon-lime or even sassafras, which is found in homemade root beer.

Does your burger and fries look any different to you now? Aug. 20 is National Honeybee Day. I don’t know what difference this will make to most people, but I think it should matter a lot. The bees of the world are in significant trouble. From pickles to mayonnaise we may be at a point of increasing risk and expense.

Take time to learn more about bees and what you might be able to do to help. Check out http://www.nationalhoneybeeday.org/.

Or put solitary bee nests in your yard. Plant wildflowers. Become a hobby beekeeper. Join the Western Colorado Beekeepers Association. Preserve natural landscapes. You can do something.

Your burger and fries depends on it.

Gary McCallister is professor of biology at Mesa State College.


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