I read something this morning that really made me think. It was lamenting the fact that our food is globally, intensively, mass-produced. There’s almost no sense of place to it anymore. If you landed from outer space in any country in the world, could you tell where you were by the food? You more than likely could in Italy, parts of Spain, France, South America but here?
In all the countries mentioned, food is inextricably linked to their very being, their culture, their life. But the more global our food supply has become, the more we’ve lost that sense of place.
And I’ve read all the articles saying we could, as a nation, feed ourselves sufficiently with dairy and beef, lamb etc. in the event of a global catastrophy but we’d be at a serious disadvantage for fruit and veg. Go into any supermarket now (even the high end ones) and all you will find is generic imported mainly from glass jungles in Almeria, Spain and mostly distributed through Holland.
It’s all very well to tell people to grow their own. But growing your own apart from a bit during the summer, takes a skillset and space. Most urban dwellers if they’re lucky enough to have a house spent most of their time working to pay the mortgage or the rent and tend to be time poor.
Markets are popping up in urban areas but in rural areas if there are any, there tends to be a dearth of growers. I’ve seen market stalls, farm shops etc. selling organic veg but it’s invariably imported.
Wouldn’t it be great to see farmers being encouraged to diversify into fruit and veg and given all the supports, incentives and financial aid to do so. And along with this build a local market where this produce could be sold. Instead we see government, farming bodies, farming advisory boards encouraging farmers to intensify, get bigger, spend more and lose control of their product the minute it goes out the gate.
I’ve been meaning to take four photos in my local SuperValu, one for every season to see the variation on the shelves but I’m fairly certain you could barely tell Christmas from Summer.
In a local market you would have apples in autumn, strawberries in summer, tomatoes in summer, root veg in winter, cabbage in spring/winter, asparagus in summer, beans/peas in summer. You could literally tell what month it was by what was in season. You’d have kohl rabi, celeriac, purple sprouting broccoli, kalettes, chard, multiple varied salad leaves (summer and winter), rocket, leaf celery, mizuna, artichokes, 5 varieties of kale, cabbage, parsnips, turnip, aubergine, courgettes. I don’t know about you but I have never seen chard in a supermarket. I asked for it once in a posh one and was told by the person in charge of the section they’d never heard of it.
Most people think stuff is in season all year round. In fact I don’t think they understand seasonality at all anymore. I see asparagus, green beans, strawberries from Nigeria or Nicaragua or wherever they’re imported from. They’re totally tasteless particularly the strawberries and for some reason tough but that doesn’t seem to bother most.
The joy of biting into a juicy, sweet Wexford strawberry in June is worth waiting for. Likewise the first Irish tomatoes that bring back memories of sandy, soggy sandwiches huddled in a windbreak after spending too long playing in the sea. You were starving and freezing and they tasted so good with a luke warm cup of sweet tea from a flask. Tomatoes I grew last year brought back this memory as I sat at the kitchen table eating them with Spanish olive oil and salt and I felt nostalgic. I hadn’t tasted tomatoes like that for such a long time. Back then presumably supermarket tomatoes tasted of tomatoes?
The purple sprouting broccoli in the photo above was the first I’ve picked this year. I was hoping to have it long before now having smugly planted some in the tunnel which grew huge, luxuriously green leaves but nothing else. I used the leaves as cabbage so not all was lost. The irony being that what I picked the other day came from plants that were decimated by caterpillars and I mean totally decimated.
I had chard all winter. In the veg garden it struggled a bit during the really heavy wind and rain as the stuff in the tunnel thrived. It really is the most versatile vegetable because it has the crunchy colourful stalks and the leafy green leaves. I have leaf celery in the tunnel and some that seeded itself outside. It has so much more flavour than the traditional celery only available to buy.
The plate above was mostly produced here. Pork belly from last year’s Oxford Sandy Blacks, veg from the garden picked minutes before cooking and wild garlic mash (the wild garlic from Tintern). I didn’t grow enough potatoes sadly but hopefully I’ll have more this year.
I would really love to see more markets in rural areas selling local, seasonal veg from local growers who are able to make a living wage. It’s fine and dandy if you’re living in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway but in rural areas it’s a different story.
Wouldn’t be great if an alien landed in a local market in rural Ireland in May and they could not only tell it was May from what was available but they could tell they were in Ireland? It’s not impossible and it is increasingly likely that that’s the route we need to be heading not expanding/intensifying/exporting because at the end of the day none of us can eat money!