This week, much of the country has been focused on the shock of a vegetable shortage with rationing having been introduced back to Britain for the first time since the 1950’s. In news that will send children across much of Northern Europe rejoicing, there is now a shortage lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, courgettes and several other items that at this time of year are sourced from southern Europe.
As usual, it is the weather is to blame in the Mediterranean and particularly south-east Spain which suffered from terrible flooding. In 2013, Murcia produced 370,451 tons of lettuce, and the year before that the region accounted for 74% of all lettuce exported by the country.
If the floods weren’t bad enough, mother nature wreaked further chaos on Spain and Italy with hard frosts and the most substantial snow seen in parts of Spain for decades resulting not just in the loss of one generation of crops from the floods but continued inability of farmers to get out on the land and prepare for the next crop.
Aside from the sadness for the farmers and others who suffered in the extreme weather, this is one ‘disaster’ that really doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I don’t like Courgettes (Zucchini) or Aubergines (Eggplants) and though I have lettuce, iceberg is not for me. Call me a little old fashioned but I actually like to have fresh, seasonal and if at all possible, locally grown produce. If not in my garden then at least within a short drive of my home.
Of course this was the norm even up until the 1980’s and maybe that is why I don’t really worry about the vegetable shortage. In the wider scheme of vegetables, there is no shortage whatsoever. There is a shortage of summer traditional summer salad produce but there is absolutely no shortage of vegetables… my tiny vegetable patch is bursting with leeks, onions, cabbage and various root vegetables. In fact snow and ice actually makes some of them such as parsnips, even more delicious to eat as the cold weather can make them sweeter.
These days many consumers have grown used to expecting to purchase out of season items but I really think this is lazy, boring and bad for the environment. I think it also shows a disconnect between people and the natural world and is symptomatic of the blandification and disposable culture seen towards food.
Perhaps for people working in offices in cities, they don’t really notice it is winter but why anyone in really cold weather would fancy having iceberg lettuce and courgettes rather than a warm, filling and much more nutritious stew of root vegetables or warm winter ‘salad’ with some kale and mushrooms is beyond me. That’s even before the environmental impact of the food miles and the huge amounts of energy and resources spent on growing and transporting out of season food.
I think one of the pleasures in life is enjoying seasonal food. I won’t ever have strawberries or raspberries in January. Firstly they taste very substandard compared to fresh, local seasonal produce but I like the passing of the seasons and enjoying the bumper crop that comes into season before passing the baton to the next crop of fruit and vegetables. There is a reason why they have strawberries at Wimbledon in June and July and they sell roasted nuts on the streets in December.
The lettuce and tomatoes in Spain have died because the plants don’t fare well with more northerly weather, which is precisely why traditionally, we don’t grow or eat them here in the winter just as having a giant roast dinner in mid-July is also less appealing.
I think having the same food every week or month of the year just makes it all a bit boring and bland. As has been said before about eating at McDonalds, you know exactly what you’re going to get but it is never going to be the most interesting, most tasty or in any way surprising meal.
I know when I travel abroad I don’t want anything that comes close to resembling British food…. or American or European food… except for food from that particular European country. Food can connect people to the local land and culture and I think that is the same at home too. I’ll have my summer fruit in summer but for the next 2-3 months, I’m tucking in to the local, plentiful, cheap and very healthy season produce that can be both grown/harvested in the winter and does the job of filling me up on these dark cold days.