The recent spate of #vegcrisis and #vegshortage stories has sparked some frustration in me. Not that we’re experiencing the shortage (or that the story seems to have blown out of all proportion – how often do you have a burning desire to buy more than 3 icebergs at once??), but that no-one seems to be using this as an opportunity to have a wider conversation.
We need to talk about our lack of resilience. We need to celebrate what we do grow locally, and to encourage the enjoyment of British produce. It seems to me, under the looming shadow of Brexit and the unknown challenges it may bring, now more than ever we could and should be talking about self sufficiency or at least a leaning towards that kind of resilience. I’m not talking dogma, a rejection of all that’s foreign. I love a lemon as much as the next person! But what struck me during the last few days, is how little anyone was asking why we need courgettes in January?? Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon, along with many other organic British farmers did, but it didn’t seem to me, at least from what I heard and saw, that the mainstream media mentioned this small, obscure and crucial fact. We, as consumers, are told that we want out of season things all year round. But do we?
I have this conversation fairly often with clients. They would like, in February for instance, a roast pepper and courgette tart. I suggest that in the late winter, this won’t be available but offer instead something seasonal such as Kale, Sharpham rustic cheese and caramelised onion tart? In every instant, customers are delighted to have another option they hadn’t considered and often appreciate the seasonality highlighted to them.
It’s a funny thing, choice. Once, my father in the depths of winter cooked for me a delicious stir-fry with asparagus. I looked at the packet and highlighted to him that these legumes had been air-freighted from Peru. He said ‘but that’s what the recipe said to use’. This idea that a) the recipe needs following to a tee and b) all recipes should be used throughout the year can be challenged. I actually love foreign ingredients; I have travelled a lot. But I also love re-working recipes to use local ingredients and to eat dishes that reflect the season – that stirfy, in the winter would be delicious with carrots, leeks, broccoli and kale. In the winter I can happily exist on roast potatoes, meat, veg and gravy. This is great because there is an abundance of roots and brassicas and red wine makes any gravy sumptuous! In the summer I can happily eat salad everyday and griddled Med veg and stir-frys. Luckily, my local growers provide me with the most wonderful peppers, courgettes and aubergines, legumes, tomatoes and leaves and so I can!
I am very aware that the world has changed. I do not propose that we only eat indigenous veg and exclude all foreign flavours and ideas from our meals. But, to rely so entirely on imports, at this time when oil is getting pricier, we have no idea how trading with Europe will be and when in actual fact we have some wonderful market gardens and small farms growing heritage and fantastic veg here, seems short sighted and a shame.
For me, the greatest challenge is fruit. But I am always disappointed in an unripe mango here after I have tasted it straight from the tree in Asia and Australia. When it is berry time in Britain, I gorge myself on all that I can. When the season is over, and there are no local apples, pears or plums, I guiltlessly eat other fruits, buying from Europe only so I know they haven’t travelled too far, at least (I have a mild satsuma addiction!).
I guess for me, the idea is to always make conscious decisions. Sometimes, for financial or logistical reasons you might not always be able to make the choices you would like to, but if we all changed a few of our consumer preferences, bought local as much as we could, supported small growers and asked our retailers to source from their area more, we would maybe help make a more resilient and supportive system. The future’s so unsure, what’s the harm?
British Organic Farm