Defra recently released another report about the security of food in the UK, indicating that the government and consumers need to focus on improving the sustainability of food production and availability. This gave me pause, as this is exactly what started in the years leading up to WWII.
During the immediate pre-war years, Britain realized that food supplies needed to be secured if it was going to survive the war. Actions taken by the government included land audits, farmer incentives for herd slaughter, and the modernisation of farming methods. Britain avoided starvation during the war because of this planning and actually managed to improve national health despite food shortages (through rationing and priority programmes). I wonder then, if the current government has the same foresight.
Nowadays, we don’t have to worry about U-boats and foreign invasions, thankfully, but we do need to worry about asparagus flown in from Peru and chickens sent from China. Because it is cheaper to import food than to grow it here, supermarkets and consumers are leading the way in undermining local food production. As the world population grows and increasingly eats an American-style diet, food distribution is going to focus on those groups willing to pay the most for food. This, coupled with environmental issues such as drought and floods, is going to drive up food prices and lead to at least some food shortages.
I don’t believe that a country should produce all of its food, mostly because I can’t imagine life without chocolate, coffee, or tea, but I do think that domestic produce and products should be given priority over imported varieties. I stand by this too. In the case of asparagus, I can get it from the grocery store, but it’s flown in from Peru. Instead, I’ll schlepp all the way into Borough Market to buy from the guy who picked it in Kent yesterday. It’s that way with most foodstuffs, actually. They taste better and last longer when they are purchased from local producers, and they aren’t really that much more expensive.
While I have no doubt that most governments are preparing emergency food contigencies, I will do my best to support local producers, regardless of where I live. If we all used a little sense and bought because of taste instead of price, we’d all be better off…