In the world before the lockdown it was common to find on the menus of better quality pubs and restaurants carefully written statements about the ingredients being “seasonal” and having been “handpicked” from “local producers.”
This certainly sounded good and perhaps made us feel better about what we were ordering, but truthfully most of us did not give it too much thought.
At the supermarket we usually reverted back to selecting the best looking fruit and veg, whether it was from a small farm down the road or an industrial operation many thousands of miles away.
But perhaps we should all start to pay closer attention.
The mass disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has exposed how vulnerable our highly complex “just in time” supply chains really are, at a time when over 80% of Britons live in cities, far removed from farming, and when as a country we produce just half of what we consume.
At the heart of the problem, according to Tim Lang, author of Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them, is that ever-rising property prices mean such a large proportion of our income goes on rent or mortgages that not enough is left to spend on fairly priced food. This encourages supermarkets to stack high and sell cheap, and leads large producers to intensively grow homogeneous food that exhausts the soil.
“Food prices ought to rise to give fair rates of return to producers while delivering good-quality diets to prevent ill-health,” Lang writes.
Increasing numbers of people are seeking places where they can buy locally grown organic produce, whether that is a much-loved food co-op or an online vegetable box delivery firm like Abel and Cole.
Meanwhile spaces within towns and cities are being repurposed for food cultivation. I saw one recently, incongruously placed at the end of a Victorian terrace in central Glasgow. Others can be found on Brooklyn rooftops or in London bomb shelters.
As we are forced to place our usual routines on hold perhaps, now more than ever, we should try close the gap between farm and fork.