• 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.

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Buying British

The food we import:

  • in 1997-2007 we imported 40% of our food. This is the highest level since 1939. Even so, the government feels we don’t need to worry: “The very high self-sufficiency of the 1980s and 1990s was unusual – an artefact of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidised farmers for food production).” The report went on: “Europe is expected to provide most of our future imports for the foreseeable future.” 1

Here are some facts and figures on imported food.

– apples picked in autumn are treated against rotting before being artificially ripened when they’re ready for sale.

– a fruit or vegetable which appears on a supermarket shelf out of season has been genetically modified and sprayed with chemicals.

– if it’s a potato, cabbage onion, pear or apple, it may be several months since it was picked: in fact, not fresh at all.

– as soon as a vegetable has been picked, its vitamin levels begin to drop, especially levels of vitamin C which is notoriously unstable.2

But there is a movement towards increasing our self-sufficiency as a country: academics like Professor Tim Lang, of City University’s Food Policy Centre, argue that simply leaving food prices to the markets, as the British government are doing, isn’t good enough. He argues that sustainable food systems – growing more of our food in this country – is the only solution which addresses the problem of the rise in demand for food, and the rise in the cost of food production (and therefore prices) even in developing countries.

“Even the food companies are beginning to have to address that, are beginning to think maybe that’s the way we’ve got to go,” he says.3 “You’ve got large companies which recognise the era of cheap food is over, and they’re not going to be able to provide the cheap food we’ve all got used to, so we’ve got to have a sustainable food system.”

And he goes on: “At the moment we’re probably only producing about 60% of our food – that’s the amount that we produced at the end of the Second World War. … How far will this home food production plummet before government and companies start seeing it as a real issue?”

The solution, he believes, is simple: “I think we should produce more – it’s a good use of land. Why are we buying food from other people which should be feeding developing countries?… I personally think we’ve got to grow much more of our own fruit and vegetables, those are the things we need to have more attention to.”

1. Cabinet office interim report, January 2007
2. Report in The Daily Telegraph, 2002
3. Professor Tim Lang, of City University’s Centre for Food Policy, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, 4/3/2008

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