Seems a silly question, I know, when there’s so much of it about, when we’re burdened not by hunger but by obesity and early onset diabetes. It’s only the crazy doom-mongers with nothing else to worry about who nag about our importing more grub than we have done for more than half a century…not being able to produce even half what we use (not eat – oh no – our current habit is to throw away at least a third of it, just to prove how extremely cheap it is). Surely there are more important things to think about than the fact that, given a terrorist attack or a major transport crisis, we only have enough food to last 2 days…
Today’s empty shelves at the Co-op are quite something, though. No milk – sorry. No fresh veg either. No crazy doom-mongers here, just a spot of bad weather which meant the delivery lorry couldn’t get through. And not just the delivery lorry – there are apparently only 10 producers of carrots in the UK, and they’re all snowed in.
The atmosphere reminds me of visiting Kiev in 1991, post-Chernobyl, when all that was to be had in the supermarkets were jars of grape juice too large to lift from the lino, and big, greasy bars of smoked cheese. In the display cabinets, families of cats had taken up residence, stretching their lissom limbs in celebration of all that space. People wandered about in a haze, made tired and numb by hunger. Might it be worth waiting, just in case a local farmer happened to turn up in the next hour or two? If not, what tins still sat in the larder back home?
Down on the allotment, there are carrots and parsnips galore, but it is impossible to uproot them, fixed as they are in rigid clay. The cabbages too – stuck fast; I take off my slippery gloves and with raw hands try to twist them free at the stem. But the woody framework is as tough as treebark, all I achieve is a slight cracking of the iced juices inside. As I retreat empt-handed from my plot I notice that the purple sprouting plants are bent double under the weight of the snow. That’s no good – they need to get upright again; given a chance now, come the spring they will be producing delicious flowers. Even though right now I can’t make out which end is the root and which the head.
Atop my neighbour’s abandoned bean poles perch a brace of pigeons, fluffed up fat against the cold. Intently, they watch as I unhook the purple sproutings’ protective netting from its stone anchors and shake at the snow, frozen to the mesh. At last the biggest lump crashes to the ground, ripping a great gash in the mesh. And the pigeons’ eyes sparkle – as soon as I’m gone, they will be down here, poking at the holes to lay claim to their dinner.
Ah hell. My kids don’t even like purple sprouting. Their preference is for frozen peas – those ‘farm-fresh’ ones sitting at home in my freezer – said freezer currently eating up energy in order to maintain a temperature not dissimilar from this one, outside. Apparently there was some problem with pea production this year – the dry spring, maybe. Ah well – even if the UK supply dries up, once the snow melts that delivery lorry will be sure to bring us something from further afield. Apparently the Chinese are managing to produce a lot from their poly-tunnels in Ethiopia.