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Back to seasonal eating – an unlikely Brexit dividend?

July 12, 2019

Yesterday, as my wife and I were sitting in our garden, I spotted two little red raspberries growing next to a fence. Years ago, we had a bed of flowers and fruit plants in that area. In a desire to make the garden easier to maintain, we replaced it with tree bark and a few tame wall-climbing shrubs. The tiny raspberry plant, struggling against a lack of water, is the sole survivor.

A few days before, one of our daughters brought us a bowl of strawberries picked that day from a friend’s garden in the country. They were sweet and full of flavour, unlike the tasteless pap that you will often find in your local supermarket.

And on the same day as I discovered the raspberries, we visited our other daughter, who lives next to a river with an abundance of brambles on its bank. Just one or two blackberries have ripened, but in a month or so there will be enough to feed the whole neighbourhood with blackberry and apple pie.

Here in Britain, it’s the berry season. It lasts for about ten weeks. Not that you would notice if you went shopping at Tesco or Sainsbury’s. There’s never a season when you can’t get strawberries from some part of the world. I’m not suggesting that our fruit tastes better than stuff grown in other countries. Some does, some doesn’t. The difference probably lies in the selection of strains grown by intensive farmers – fruit designed to look good and stay fresh longer – as opposed to what grows in the wild and in our gardens.

I’m of a generation that can just about remember seasonality in food. Root vegetables in winter, spring lambs, new potatoes in summer. It was a cycle that changed little for thousands of years. Over the past two or three decades, those of us who can afford it have become foodies. We expect the supermarkets to provide any food, regardless of time of year. It’s always spring in some part of the world, so we import from wherever our food is in season. And yes, ships and aircraft spewing out vast quantities of carbon bring us beef from Argentina, avocados from Kenya and mangoes from India.

I’m not about to launch into an eco-dirge, but it does occur to me that there might be one advantage from a no-deal Brexit to set against a mountain of perils. If disruptions to our trading relations and a steep decline in the value of sterling make it prohibitively expensive to maintain our season-blind cuisine, we might rediscover the joy of waiting for our food to come into season.

We will always import some foodstuffs – our climate doesn’t support bananas, coffee and a range of spices, for example – but much of the food we need can be produced at home. If we could be weaned off our addiction to products that are grown elsewhere purely to satisfy our desire for raspberries at Christmas or rhubarb in the autumn, would that be such a bad thing?

I even agree with Tim Martin, the bombastic Brexiteer who owns the pub chain JD Wetherspoon, when he makes the point that we are quite capable of making beer, lager, cider and wine of a high quality without having to resort to Belgian lager and Chilean chardonnay.

OK, perhaps the foodies can’t be denied their luxuries forever, but we could at least change our ways until the political madness passes, and long enough to encourage our farmers, brewers and winemakers to step up their production, and our supermarkets to pay decent prices to the home producers.

By that time, we might even come to realise that a higher degree of national self-sufficiency is one way in which we can all contribute to reducing carbon emissions. In fact we might even see a period of delayed gratification as a national duty.

It’s complicated, I know, and you could accuse me of being elitist in expecting large numbers of people to switch from processed food with cheap imported ingredients to freshly-cooked seasonal product in order to save the planet. But hey, you have to draw some potential positives from the mess we’re in right now.

From → Business, Politics, Social, UK

  1. Two possible Brexit dividends come to mind for Kent. 1) The need to plant hops again – lots of them… 2) Refugee camps – Nissen rather than Nissan huts (but you never know) – for the returning Leave-voting Costa-Lot retirees who can’t afford a home in the UK or life on the Costas at £1 = 1.05€. The leavers/returnees, depending on your viewpoint, could pick the hops (a 3rd Brexit dividend!).

    • Excellent ideas. You should get in touch with Dominic Cummings. I believe there’s a SPAD vacancy at Downing St….

      • Or on second thoughts, get in touch with the Government-in-Exile once it’s formed.

  2. Northampton will again be “COBBLERS!” or cordwanglers, using all that freshly tanned leather skinned from the British beef mountain, and Irish Sea langoustines will again be Scampi in a Basket as the “Continent” wants them fresh (alive even), not frozen…

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