Post-war Britain’s rationing habits combined with the rise of the self-service supermarket have cemented their involvement in the construction of our eating behaviours. Green-grocers stocked what was available seasonally and locally, yet the rise of the supermarket and increasing consumer demand has changed all of that.
Asparagus, the herbaceous green stem (undoubtedly a chef’s delight) are regarded as the sure fire signal that spring time is here. Available between mid-April and June, the British asparagus season is a short one, running approximately for only 8 weeks, they are prized for their flavour, texture and versatility.
Equally, children wait in eager anticipation for the warmth of June to produce everyone’s the ultimate summer fruit; the strawberry, sweet, plump and fragrant. Few memories are more fond than of families running around the PYO (pick your own) farm fields and gathering the ripe scarlet berry.
However, both of these items seem to be in constant stock on the supermarket shelves, regardless of the time of year. Is eating seasonally a thing of the past? Has the consumer desire for convenience simply bypassed the natural cycle? Belgium strawberries can be bought in winter, Peruvian asparagus ships all year round. Needless to say, the agricultural industry of other countries has benefited from the British desire for convenience and demand.
In fact, another seasonal spring favourites has been in the spotlight. Peru is the biggest international exporter of asparagus and with the UK’s insatiable appetite for eating our green speared friends all year round, has made us the third largest importer of their goods.
Although the asparagus fields have played a major role in saving its economy and reducing unemployment levels in the agricultural regions to nearly zero, producing year round asparagus to meet the world’s demand has brought about environmental implications and difficulties for the region.
Asparagus are a thirsty crop and research has shown that a large Peruvian asparagus farm can use as much as water as the city of Ica, every day. In addition, veracious asparagus growing has greatly affected the water table in the Ica valley, with it decreasing around eight metres every year. However, despite the environmental impact, our love for this vegetable has helped to sustain the livelihood of farming communities some 6000 miles away.
When it comes to taste though, the British love to support home grown produce and this is evident with the increasing numbers of farmers’ markets and veg box schemes springing up all over the UK offering locally grown foods. It champions seasonal, fresh produce and enables the consumer to have a better understanding of where our food comes from.
Eating British gives us a greater awareness that local farms are getting the support they need, greatly stimulating the economy and also reducing our impact on the environment in the form of decreasing the carbon footprint associated with food miles. British produce travels fewer miles from farm to fork, is fresher and maintains more vitamins and flavour; and to eat what is seasonally available is to respect the natural cycle.
What are your views on buying British versus imported foods?