Many of us bang the drum for eating seasonally and buying locally. When we exit the EU on 31st January 2020 it’s highly possible that we will have no choice in this as food importation may be affected- at least in the short term. As a nation we rely heavily on imported produce, according to a recent Government white paper (“Brexit: food prices and availability”) over 40% of our food is imported throughout the year rising to a whopping 70% during March. It has to be said that this is largely of our own making- is it really essential that we import green beans from Kenya, Egypt or Morocco or strawberries from Israel or Spain or even worse, depend on tasteless fruit grown in polytunnels just so that we can eat them throughout the year? We should stop panicking about potentially losing access to the abundance of a global pantry and start thinking instead about tailoring what we cook to enable us to eat domestically.
Time to Embrace the Seasons
I believe that this is a great opportunity to re-evaluate both what and how we eat and to recognise the fantastic produce that we have here in the UK. Do we really need to be consuming lettuces, tomatoes and soft fruit in March for example, when we could be enjoying cauliflower, celeriac and rhubarb instead? Surely it must be better to attune ourselves to the seasons and embrace the produce available to us at the appropriate time?
Poor diets have created a huge problem in the UK- particularly type 2 diabetes and obesity. If we are put into the position of having to eat both seasonally and locally we may well find that this has a positive effect on our health. Eating seasonally means that we supply our bodies with what we need when we need it, in turn improving our physical wellbeing and restoring balance. There are other advantages too, reducing food miles both benefits the environment and ensures that the food we consume is at its peak in terms of nutritional value.
Taking responsibility for the quality and provenance of what we consume will have a knock on effect further down the line, diet related disease currently impacts the NHS to the tune of £6 billion plus per annum. What an achievement it would be if by making relatively small changes we could significantly reduce this burden.
Support Our British Producers
It’s time to support British food producers and recognise that alongside the meat, fish, fruit and vegetables that are reared or grown here we also produce amazing cheeses, charcuterie and wine that are good enough to hold their ground against any number of imported products. We should insist as far as possible on buying British and supporting the economy from the farmer to the food processors and ultimately to the retailer.
Let’s vote with our feet, visit the Farmer’s Markets and be more selective about what we buy from the supermarkets- in other words buy British wherever possible.
Resist the Lure of Instant Gratification
There can be such a position as having too much choice and this is where we find ourselves right now. Having so many products at our fingertips isn’t necessarily a good thing- it positively encourages waste and complacency. I’m certainly not advocating returning to the dark days of food rationing, but having to make do and be a little more inventive won’t do any of us any harm. I’d love to think that a taste of adversity would reawaken a bit of the old British fighting spirit and reconnect us with the countryside, renewing a respect for where our food comes from.
In many countries throughout the world you can visit a significant number of local restaurants that routinely offer perhaps only a maximum of 6 choices on their menus. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and is a perfect example of making the best of what you have around you. Locally sourced food means less miles from farm to fork and a reduced carbon footprint.
Look For Viable Alternatives
The fact that we will probably have to vary our diets to accommodate any fluctuations in supply should be viewed as a positive rather than a negative. This is a fantastic opportunity to introduce new flavours and ingredients into the weekly repertoire- which despite all of the choice that is currently available can easily become stale and humdrum. Most people have a very limited repertoire of recipes so this is a great way to vary the weekday diet. If we can’t rely on the huge array of choice we currently enjoy then it’s time to challenge ourselves and learn how to make substitutions.
The world won’t come to an end if we cease to have year-round access to avocados and Parmesan cheese. We should feel encouraged by the knowledge that our own British producers are turning their attention to cultivating European style foods such as fruit, vegetables, charcuterie and cheese in order to bridge the gap. It’s a good time to sample some of our own fabulous produce and make substitutions- I recommend ditching the Parmesan in favour of an Old Winchester, a minimum of 16 months matured with a wonderful crystalline crunch on the palate- it’s an absolute winner.
Become Micro Ambitious
Perhaps it’s time to think seriously about becoming more self- sufficient and foraging or growing your own is a great place to start. It’s incredibly satisfying to harvest and eat something that you have grown yourself and it doesn’t require a huge garden to make this a possibility. Vegetables, herbs, roots and tubers can all be cultivated in a small space- balconies, patios, hanging baskets and even rooftops are all ideal. Kick this off with baby steps and see where it takes you.
In urban areas micro gardening has proved to be a rapidly increasing trend.
“Micro gardening is the practice of intensively food ‘farming’ in containers and well-designed, small urban spaces. Micro gardens are designed to be highly productive; energy and space efficient; sustainable; affordable; and grown in healthy living soil.” Anne Gibson
It’s truly enlightening to discover the huge variety of produce that can be successfully grown in small spaces and containers including:- tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cabbages and greens. Space can be maximised even further by growing vertically rather than horizontally. Whatever method you may decide to adopt, growing your own is easy, fun, economical and opens up the possibility of a bit of swapping or bartering with like-minded people.
I don’t see dark days ahead but opportunities, a wealth of choice and the chance to really embrace and appreciate our domestic produce. This shouldn’t be viewed as inward looking but more as a beacon of aspiration in much the same way as the 2012 Olympics inspired and reinvigorated the nation. Brexit’s coming and despite what we might think we all have a degree of autonomy in how it will affect us. One thing’s for sure though, deal or no deal, we’re not going to starve.
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Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.