The summer that wasn’t

After last year’s scorching early August, I thought ‘let’s make the best of global warming’ and planted up my veg patch with tomatoes. Up to the end of June they were looking amazingly healthy and verdant and fruiting weeks earlier than last year. I was rubbing my hands in anticipation and having lengthy conversations with Senor San Marzano, about his future, every evening. I even asked Pam the Jam to jettison her usual crowd pleasers and give a bottling (canning in America) masterclass at our fortieth birthday celebration. Then it all started going to pot as, instead of ripening, as soon as the skins began to soften, blemishes started to appear (there’s definitely a gap in the market for better tomato skincare products, see photo below) and I had to resort to plan B – chutney. Hence our Green Tomato Chutney appearing in July, rather than the more traditional October but, judging from how quickly we sold out last year, that’s no bad thing. Someone (I can’t remember who), but if I ever get invited onto Radio 4’s Saturday Live, you’ll get a mention, suggested salting the vegetables overnight which is a revelation. Not only does it halve the cooking time and fuel costs but not having to boil off all that liquid means the tomatoes stay much chunkier. Win, win, and an extra win because the liquid that gets drawn off is delicious. I haven’t found a use for it but I imagine it would make a good stock alternative in a tomato soup or similar. I tried making a kind of green tomato gazpacho but we all agreed it was horrible so don’t worry – you won’t be seeing it in the shop with a WIP/tell us what you think sticker. I’m not that brave.

As we’ve all seen; the World’s on fire (and I’m not talking about the long awaited second series of the BBC’s World War 2 drama) and it’s beginning to wreak havoc with our food supply. The unpredictable nature of the UK growing season is making ‘home-grown’ anything difficult and I suspect that the ‘scorchio’ Mediterranean can no longer be relied upon to deliver the out of season fruit and vegetables we’ve all grown used to. They’re saying the 2023 olive oil harvest will be even worse than last year and acres of UK wheat are rotting in the fields. We could well have reached ‘peak food’ so what do we do? Well if the media and, dare I say, the evidence of meat sales in the shops is anything to go by, we cheer ourselves up with a nice, juicy steak. It’s great that meat and animal fats no longer carry a health warning and that people are looking for better quality, with provenance, but we can’t get away from the overall picture of a warming planet with 85% of agricultural land used for rearing, and growing, food for, livestock. I can’t claim not to take a certain satisfaction from icing coming off the Beyond Meat cake and the whole cake disappearing for Meatless Farm, but in the current climate, can anyone be surprised that cash strapped consumers are opting for cheap, real but intensively reared, meat burgers rather than double priced meatless versions. Nor that many are seeing them for what they are; ultra-processed foods (UPF’s) of industrial, mono-cropping, agriculture.

So where do we stand? We can all swan around patting ourselves on the back for ticking all the local, organic, regenerative agriculture boxes but it ‘don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world’ if 95% of the population are standing in a supermarket aisle weighing up the above burger dilemma. As has been said, multiple times, we need a plan – and we’re not going to get it from the supermarket dominated food industry. Dividends top with the environment bottom, with customers, staff and suppliers somewhere in between seems to be the order of things and with so much of agriculture and food processing in private ownership and accountable to no one, I just can’t see any prospect of a workable strategy coming from the so-called, ‘free’ (to make loads of money) market. Maybe I’m clutching at straws but it could from us, either in the form of responsible shareholders or by voting in a government that takes these things seriously.- prioritising ‘healthy eating’ in their manifesto and sticking to it rather than worrying about the next election. We can dream but, as has been shown, it will pay for itself in the long term through reduced healthcare, days off work and sickness benefits

To reiterate and emphasis the above, Monday bought more bad news about UPF’s. As well as obesity, diabetes etc two studies have shown that excessive consumption also significantly increases the dangers of heart attacks and strokes. To hear Lord Haskins, formerly or Northern Foods (M&S’s largest food supplier), on the Today program, dismissing it on the grounds that the Romans also liked to add quite a bit of salt to their food, pretty much summed up the position of the mainstream food processing industry. What he didn’t say was that Romans didn’t rely on UPF’s for 60% of their diet or what the garam sauce swilling Patrician classes life expectancy was. We wont be seeing much change in our world any time soon. His lordship was also eating a lot of ready meals because his wife had been unwell. Well, somehow, I don’t think the kind of ready meals he’s been enjoying are quite what Henry Dimbleby was talking about in his food strategy report or ‘Ravenous’ book. 

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