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Food comes from all over the world – but why so illogically sourced?

Thu, 4 October, 2018

We had a stunningly good summer this year in the UK – and the continent, but they are used to it. We are not. We gasped and phwoared and oohed and aahed every morning at how gorgeous it was and how unbelievable that it had been the same yesterday and would be again tomorrow. We are more at home with July drizzle, early August frost and storms of September. We are used to plenty of raspberries, courgettes and broad beans; not tomatoes and certainly not figs.

I enjoyed the summer and our bumper tomato crop. The fig tree let me down – plenty of fruit on it, none ripened. Raspberries suffered so no raspberry jam this year, and the broad beans were scarce. It was all an anomaly, as I keep telling The Weather Man, it ain’t repeating.

However unusual the season was, I shouldn’t expect it to vastly affect the crops, farmers and fruit growers – especially not in terms of finding British grown figs on supermarket shells. Why then do they keep selling us green beans from Kenya and tomatoes grown in Isle of Wight’s greenhouses?

Green beans are prolific. They like any kind of weather; they grow well and climb gracefully up the canes, fence and neighbouring potato plants on our little plot. They are not okra nor even peppers or aubergines that require long hot summers every year. Since they grow here they should be picked and sold here too – food less travelled tastes better.

Tomatoes on the other hand were a huge fluke this year; normally they are a modest and only partly ripening crop. They fare better when sheltered behind greenhouse glass pane but there’s absolutely nothing like direct sun kisses to make tomatoes truly tasty. Isle of Wight? Mine are always grown outdoors and even in the measliest years they tasted better than the greenhouse ones from supermarket shelves. British or Dutch – that’s the usual choice in my local supermarket: seriously? What’s wrong with people? These are not tulips or strawberries. They should be imported from Italy, France and Spain.

I understand it’s the economy (stupid!) and ruthless laws of markets, costs and efficiencies that create those bizarre situations but honestly, could they not grow things in Kenya that can only be grown in Kenya or similar environments? I’ll happily spend my money in support of Kenyan agriculture but aren’t they better over there at mangoes, coffee and bananas? Are those damn beans so massively profitable for everyone involved?

And how is it possible that ripe Italian tomatoes cannot compete with the greenhouse Kent? This I think I’ve sussed: they are TOO good, too ripe and would spoil too soon, as proper fresh produce does. In Isle of Wight they are picked hard, barely red and completely tasteless, then shipped leisurely all over the country, with supply chain operators safe in the knowledge the fruit won’t spoil, because it was poor to start off with.

My view on how things should be is simplistic: buy the best possible produce from the closest afield that is indigenous to the given crop. There’s no real need to fly food around the globe if you can grow the same close by, just not all year round. Stick to seasonal – food tastes better if you can’t always get it. I said it was simplistic.

Autumn is all around us now so apples should be falling off trees in orchards, begging to be bitten into, red and lustrous. Well, guess what – apart from a bag or two of skanky Early Windsors (early? in October?!) all of them on sale in my local supermarket come from South Africa or New Zealand.

 

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