• In season now: May

    New this month: Asparagus! The food of gods... and carrots are back.

    Still in season from last month: cauliflower, chard, green cabbage, salad leaves, main-crop potatoes (from store), salad leaves, sea kale, spring greens, rhubarb

    Goodbye till next year to: Purple sprouting broccoli (sniff, sniff), leeks, stored parsnips, forced rhubarb

  • What I’m doing here

    This all started when I picked the first strawberries from my new allotment.

    I'd never been so enraptured or so excited by food. It was a shock to find that anything could taste so good.

    So what - I'd never had strawberries before?

    No - all the strawberries I'd had were shop-bought, like as not flown in from intensive growers in Spain or Chile, and eaten in winter when strawberries should be a distant summer memory.

    It revolutionised my thinking about the fresh food we eat every day. I started to wonder if you got the same amazing taste from all types of food grown and eaten in season. And then I decided to do something about it.

    The Year of Eating Seasonally is my little experiment to find out what it's really like not to have it all. The only fruit and veg I and my family are going to eat in 2008 will be what's growing in the ground at the time (or, in winter, what I can get out of store).

    I want to find out if the hungry gap is really as hungry as everyone says it is: whether you're really eating nothing but cabbage all winter; and whether you miss strawberries in December.

    Along the way I hope I'll save a few tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere on my behalf, as I won't be requiring those French beans flown from Chile, thanks very much. And I hope I'll be rediscovering what food can really taste like.

    If you have any comments, please feel free to post them anywhere you like - or you can email me at sallywhite@hotmail.com.

Feeding ourselves

Domestic goddess rating: 20% (frantic freezer day) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: Toast, marmite & juice (breakfast); cheese & pickle sandwich  (lunch at work); lancashire hotpot from the freezer and frozen peas (supper)

One of those busy, busy days today so grabbed what I could out of the freezer and went with it.

A comment one of South African friends made the other night at supper made me think. They tell me South Africa simply doesn’t import any food (or hardly any). Of course, this is a hangover from the old sanctions days, no doubt, but it does make South Africa a more or less self-sufficient nation.

This made me wonder why it should be that some countries in the world seem to be self-sufficient, while others – even those which have no particular reason not to be, like the UK – are not. I couldn’t find any particularly enlightening statistics telling me which countries grow their own food themselves and which don’t – but I did find this interesting little snippet from CABI (the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) which does research into all things agricultural and environmental.

“Self sufficiency has a cost in terms of global welfare… full self sufficiency is not seen as defensible from an economic standpoint. However, food security may be a legitimate objective.

“Given the very low level of coverage of the European demand by domestic sources (20%) and due to other risk factors, it seems plausible that an increase in self sufficiency would be appropriate. The political feasibility is low, due to the built-in bias of the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] in favour of grains… The concern for increased self sufficiency now seems to have faded away… If a crisis on world markets would occur, followed as in the past by embargoes or other export restraints, the issue of self sufficiency would come back to the front scene.” (2005 report for CABI into European self sufficiency by L. P. Mahe)

First, I was utterly gobsmacked that the European demand for food is only covered to the tune of 20%. Have I really read this right? In other words, Europe requires 80% of its food to come from other sources? I find this utterly extraordinary.

Second, and this is a sad reflection on the way the world works today, it’s all about money. In other words, it doesn’t make economic sense to be able to feed ourselves, as if we could, all those big companies that make their billions transporting food all over the world would go bust. Perhaps less cynically, it would also impact financially on farmers producing surpluses which are at the moment sold and exported to other countries.

But hang on a minute. If we all ate food we’d produced in this country, and everyone else in the world did too… what’s the need for surpluses? or exports? And surely there’s got to be something wrong when farmers in the UK are producing wheat and barley to export abroad instead of, say, tomatoes or (more seasonally at the moment) potatoes, so that we then have to buy them from some other country and ship over here in order to feed ourselves. It’s a hell of a merry-go-round when you think about it. I’d kind of like us to get off.

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One Response

  1. […] As regular readers will know, our ability (or rather, lack of it) to feed ourselves is something I’ve been banging on about quite regularly since I started this – simply because I’ve been shocked at how little British food I’ve […]

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