From talking to farmers and others over the last few months, there has been ‘considerable dislocation’ in the market. The nearer you are to ‘commodity’ food production the more stable things have been. Whereas if you’ve specialised to produce for niche markets or even sell direct to the catering trade or at farmers markets, everything went very messy very quickly.
We had the same number of consumers, who largely wanted to eat pretty much the same things, but some of the routes from farm to plate were blocked by lockdown. But there have been some good things to come from it. At least for certain sections of the industry.
As somebody who is instinctively a dairy farmer, it cheers me immensely to discover that one of the big successes has been cheese. Apparently average cheese consumption increased by 44% during the lockdown. I don’t find this too difficult to believe. Cheese is easy, flexible, and is an integral part of so many comfort foods. I mean, I know people so adventurous that they even grate cheese over beans on toast and give it a quick twirl in the microwave to melt the cheese.
But there’s other openings as well. Cathedral City cheddar (which is, by sales volume, probably the UK’s favourite cheddar) has potentially made a breakthrough. It will be available across 2,000 plus retail outlets in the USA during November. This happened a month after Saputo, the company that produces this cheese, announced that 500 Canadian stores would be selling the cheese. To be fair, Saputo is a Canadian company so it’s probably easier for them to get a toe in that door. But still, to put all this in perspective, Tesco has under 2,700 stores in the UK. This means that the combined Canadian and US outlets stocking the UK’s favourite cheddar will be about the same as the number of UK Tesco Stores. But of course the average US store will be bigger!”
This is nothing to do with Brexit or trade deals. It’s just good companies looking for markets for good products. Still we’ve got the usual hullaballoo going on about trade deals at the moment. I saw somebody comment (when ‘discussing’ chlorine washed chicken) that the UK government imports this rubbish. This is nonsense. The UK government imports very little food. (I suppose it might bring in some for the armed forces.) Food imports are largely by private companies who know what their consumers demand.
So what do consumers demand? Well as a rule of thumb, in times of prosperity, 20% will look at artisan or quality foods. In times of recession this can drop to 10%. And we’re heading into a recession. The private companies who import food know what their customers want, they are going to want ‘Cheap.’
There’s also a move to ban imports of food from countries that do not meet UK standards. The problem is that this includes the EU. For example the UK banned sow stalls in 1999. But the EU kept using them and because of EU single market regulations we had to keep importing meat from pigs that had been kept in sow stalls. The EU eventually banned them in 2013 but still, Compassion in World Farming regard it as a partial ban, saying, “The partial sow stall ban makes it illegal to confine sows for their entire pregnancy, and requires sows to be group housed from 4 weeks after mating or earlier.”
Admittedly once we’ve fully left the EU we can ban EU pork products on the grounds of animal welfare if people want. Just as we can ban US chlorine washed chicken and, one assumes, EU chlorine washed salad vegetables.
But seriously, given we have a lot of people who are going to struggle to be able to afford food to put on the table, how much will they care? The 80:20 is going to move more to 90:10.
So what do we do? Passing laws banning imports from countries that do not meet UK food standards could lead to food rationing, and a winter vegetarian diet consisting of a lot of turnip and sprouts. Can we use some sort of guidance to nudge our consumers?
Well that brings us to the photo at the top of our page. At the side of our drive is a piece of lawn. My late father, twenty or more years ago, laid down an old limestone gate stoop. As he said at the time, “It’ll stop people just driving on the lawn.”
Now the drive is wide enough to get a twenty ton tipper lorry down. In the yard itself you can turn one with ease. We know this. We’ve done it. So there is no need whatsoever to drive on the lawn. But at regular intervals some muppet hits the gate stoop. By this I’m not meaning a glancing blow with the wheel, I’m talking about hitting it with wheels on both sides, which produces an interesting grating noise from the underside of your vehicle.
I once had to tow a taxi off it. He was a bit stroppy until I asked why he wanted to drive on the lawn in the first place, wasn’t the drive wide enough?
Today a delivery van, rather than putting in an extra tack, would save a tenth of a second by cutting across the lawn. Well that produced three minutes backing off and anxiously examining the underside of his vehicle that he’s never going to get back.
So we could put things in place which made some things harder to import, not by banning them but by making sure they’re properly labelled. But then, if the people read the label, shrug and buy it anyway, what then?
There again, what do I know? There’s times when it’s better to just sit with a good book and give the world time to come to its senses.
Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
As a reviewer commented, “
Tallis Steelyard is a poet with champagne tastes on a beer budget. Chased out of town, and into the bay, by irate creditors, he’s rescued by a passing boat and given the opportunity to become a part of the crew. Thereafter follow a series of adventures, many funny, before Tallis can finally return home again.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story and recommend it highly!”