In the week in which we saw food shortages decimate supermarket shelves, and the politicos arguing over its cause, whether that be Brexit or the weather, is there something bigger at play? What can we start to do at home as we adapt to this new way of living? One where shortages are part of the new normal, regardless of their cause?
Asda and Morrisons are among some of the larger retailers in the country to introduce purchasing limits on some fresh fruit and vegetables in the last couple of weeks to combat UK-wide shortages. Initially blamed on adverse weather being experienced in Europe affecting crops and supply chains, some were also quick to point out that border check delays in the continuing fallout from Brexit were also a contributing factor to the shortage, their evidence being that the UK is currently the only European country with empty shelves, including France and even war-torn Ukraine.
Brexit trade barriers have continued to impact food supply chains across the UK since the deal came into force in early 2020. From the get-go, shortages of drivers, panic buying, and the Covid pandemic all had their share of the blame, with the certain common factor unique to the UK exacerbating issues with border checks and delays.
Do you remember that summer in 2021? The news reporting for weeks straight of fuel, food and driver shortages? Well, you may recall that I was working in a supermarket at the time, and can for once give an informed, first-hand take on the real story. We had plenty of fuel in our adjoining petrol station, and no shortages in-store that were out of the norm, limited to a handful of unrelated products at a time for the usual reasons: the factory was having issues or someone miscounted the stock and didn’t order enough in. It was only when the media began reporting on this as a nationwide issue that we began to encounter problems, with panic buying emptying the shelves faster than we could ever fill them. And thus, we were swept up into a mass problem despite our supply being in almost perfect working order, much like the panic buying of the early stages of the pandemic.
When this latest development first emerged, I thought this was history repeating itself: stop bringing it up and the issue will disappear. Much like anyone living in denial, I soon saw the light on my latest trip to the supermarket. Rows upon rows of empty trays, with nowhere near enough point of sale signs to fill them explaining how corporate are working hard to get our favourites back on the shelves.
The warmer winter this year has affected crops in France, Spain and Italy. A lack of rain and snowfall, combined with the warmer temperatures, have increased the risk of drought, and could continue to threaten this year’s weather patterns, with this summer again predicted to be one of the hottest and driest on record. This cycle of shortages, leaving supply to be dictated by the whims of mother nature in the face of ever-increasing demand, fuelled further by the pressures of limitless capital from the large companies which dominate the western world, will all soon be unfeasible as the impact of climate change already begins to bite.
That’s what the bigger threat is here. When capitalism goes, its consequences will remain. In our atmosphere, our oceans, and our food. We cannot rely on supply chains which will be impacted by these changes to consistently provide us with the foods we enjoy under these deteriorating conditions.
When Environment Secretary Therese Coffey came under fire last week for suggesting that the public eating turnips in light of the shortages, I admit I was swept up in the obvious comparisons. Let them eat turnips, says the Tory that never gave a damn about us anyway. It did come around the same time as she would also state that those who can’t afford food should work more hours, the equivalence was on equal display with her ignorance to the wider issues her party have caused. But there is also a point to be made here: if we were to embrace the seasonal, home grown produce we have in our own borders, the ones which filled their shelves to the brim across the aisle from the barren trays of imported goods, we would still have a varied and balanced diet, safe in the knowledge that we are both doing our bit for the planet and standing up against globalist corporate profit. And no, it wouldn’t just be root vegetables and mushrooms. I spotted British apples and pears on my trip to the shops, and it won’t be long until those sweet, Scottish strawberries and raspberries begin to adorn our shelves again. I find I always get more value for money with British spinach, and I once found a leaf in a bag the size of my hand. The summer months wouldn’t just be a time to celebrate lighter evenings, it would be a time to celebrate the variety and durability of home grown.
This does not mean we also couldn’t enjoy the same goods we currently import in the future. We can invest in the home growing infrastructure, such as building more greenhouses and making allotments more affordable and freely available through community investment, to keep enjoying the foods we’ve grown accustomed to receiving on demand. To grow and cultivate more of this produce on home soil will also require a substantial amount of energy, such as from heating and lighting, and it will need to come from renewable sources in order to maintain the country’s climate goals, but it’s not impossible.
However, the biggest change required here, as always, is a change in our thinking. We know that the impacts of climate change are beginning to affect the western world, just like they’ve been severely impacting the developing world for a while now, and we need to put this into perspective. Personally, I’m quite happy to hold off on buying that new top imported from Pakistan if it means a severely underpaid garment worker doesn’t have to wade through floods to get to an unsafe factory to made it. Have a preference for Spanish tomatoes? It’s time to consider them a luxury again
As we set out in our Common Home Plan, and further reiterated in Sorted, we have the plans and capacity here in Scotland to begin reducing our reliance on imported goods, including fresh food. With the right intentions, and the right infrastructure, we can and must begin to make these changes, or we can expect these shortages and supply issues to no longer make the headlines, and just become a part of our daily lives.