My thinking? Here it goes. If, as a result of Brexit, we export to Europe less material that absorbs plastic in the sea, and import less material from Europe that absorbs pesticides in polytunnels, then we will keep more of our own fish and be forced to grow more of our own fruit and vegetables. It will shorten transport costs, and means that both goods will be cheaper than before, as well as more abundant.

I’m no Kwasi Kwarteng, but it’s just the basics of economics, right? Incorrect.

I suppose the massive shortage of toilet rolls in 2020, although pandemic-related, should have warned us that the third decade of the 21st century will not be a decade of abundance. That’s how it turned out. Not only are skyrocketing energy costs forcing us to cut back on basic utilities such as gas central heating, we also now have no tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers or even lettuce to enhance our rough Scottish plates and tired Scottish palates .

The shortage of these goods and some others led to the introduction of rationing in supermarkets. Aldi and Tesco limit purchases of cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes to three cucumbers, tomatoes per shopper, Morrisons went one better (or worse?) and limited it to two, while Asda rations lettuce, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower. Even raspberries are on the list, although you can blow one for free.

There is good news. Thanks climate change soon we will be able to grow such exotic products as bananas, figs, watermelons and persimmons in this country. Kew Gardens ethnobotanist and regular Countryfile presenter James Wong even found a whole avocado on a London council estate, apparently growing from a discarded pit.

Until then, we’ll have to make do with turnips like the cigar-smoking Secretary of State Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Teresa Coffey advised us at last week’s House of Commons session. Not so good in a Greek salad or added to cereal, but whatever.

“It’s important to make sure we value the specialization we have in this country,” Ms Coffey told MPs after being called to Parliament to answer questions about the current food shortage. “A lot of people would eat turnips right now and not necessarily think about the lettuce aspects and the tomatoes and stuff like that.”

Are turnips a British specialty? Boris Johnson, when he was Prime Minister, reflected on the things that Britain was good at, but I don’t recall him saying that we were doing well. Life sciences, yes. Brassica rapa, no. Maybe he said it in Latin so no one would notice how ridiculous it was.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Coffey’s surprising parliamentary intervention on behalf of the not-so-humble turnip was a gift to meme-makers. One took a picture of a Vote Leave bus and replaced the infamous slogan (sorry, lie) about the NHS with the words: “Forget tomatoes, let’s eat turnips instead. This is what you voted for. You are a ***.”

As always, the stars belong to me.

Another meme used an image of La Tomatin, a Spanish festival where everyone dresses in white shirts and chinos and rolls in tomato pulp. “The UK is debating whether Brexit is a factor in the tomato shortage,” it said. “Meanwhile in Spain…”

Some people – let’s cut to the chase: it’s Therese Coffey again – will tell you that the deficit has absolutely nothing to do with Brexit. Nothing at all. Instead, they will point to factors such as the bad weather that hit Spain and North Africa during the winter and had a negative impact on crops.


In fact, Ms Coffey said the same thing at the National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham last week, although the excuse was met with loud boos. She really had a good few days, didn’t she? Not that her boss Rishi Sunak fared any better. His claim that he could understand what British farmers were going through, having once taken part in an early morning milking in Wensleydale, was also not well received. Fortunately, he was only speaking at the conference via video link, so he wasn’t there in person to have the farmers throw tomatoes at him. Or turnips, if there were no bulbs at hand.

In truth, the government can legitimately point to the problem of increased production costs (although the point of multi-tunnels isn’t that they sort of heat themselves?). Likewise, they would be perfectly right to invoke in their defense the post-Brexit trade deal with Morocco signed in 2019. Food imports from this country to Great Britain have increased markedly, and that is something. They can also blame the supermarkets. They pay so little for produce that foreign growers simply take their trade elsewhere, while home grown growers sometimes don’t bother planting because it isn’t worth it financially.

Other people, those who think the Westminster government is incompetent, or think Brexit was a disaster, or those who simply know how to assess the evidence with their own eyes and ears, do think that our exit from Europe has at least something to do with it. Former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King spoke on the BBC radio Today on Program 4 and said distribution has been “significantly disrupted by Brexit”. So it’s a definite yes from him.

Liz Webster of the Save British Farming pressure group was equally adamant. “It’s because of Brexit,” she told LBC radio on Thursday when asked about tomatogeddon. “We’re seeing a cascading fall in British food due to Brexit decisions.” Save British Farming has also produced a handy map showing in red countries affected by food shortages believed to be caused by bad weather. Unaffected countries are marked in blue. And the only tomato-colored country in Europe? See if you can guess. Yes, this is mainland Britain.

You can laugh, you can make memes, you can shout: “Let them eat turnips!”. Lots of people, including that guy who looks like Hugh Bonneville and is running for leader of the Lib Dems in England. And yes, it’s awful not to be able to find those yellow and orange cherry tomatoes that Jamie Oliver slow-roasts with oregano, garlic and vinegar (you’ll find them in Jamie Oliver’s Together 2021, available from all good charity shops).

But the question of national resilience is an important one, and resilience doesn’t get much more important and sustainable than the ability to put food on the table. Of course, today is a rocket, but what if tomorrow is milk, cheese or meat? What will happen when the bread runs out? Revolutions broke out over less. Let them really eat turnips.

It may not get better anytime soon either. The Leigh Valley Growers Association is responsible for a third of the cucumbers we manage to grow in the UK and they don’t expect supplies to return to normal until May. Yeah, as Scooby Doo used to say.

To see for myself the shortage, I visited a major supermarket on your behalf (as well as to purchase wine and Bombay mix, which I can report are currently not rationed). A crisis? What crisis? They had a bunch of volumes. The same bags with lettuce, cucumbers and pepper. Admittedly, I couldn’t find the broccoli in shrink wrap, but there was a lot of stuff that you have to weigh yourself if that matters.

One thing I wanted and they didn’t have was spring greens. It’s basically just fancy cabbage, so maybe we can grow it in Blighty. I guess that’s one of our specialties. Also – and there’s a hint in the title – it’s supposed to be seasonal, and so it fits Ms. Coffey’s idea of ​​what we should be mocking instead of this imported foreign junk.

And turnip? Didn’t see anything, strangely enough. But I’m sure there was a bunch somewhere.

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