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Food for thought

24 February, 2023

Empty shelves. Essential items rationed. Messages on local WhatsApp groups telling us that supplies of a particular good have just arrived in a supermarket round the corner.  

The current shortages of salad items, particularly tomatoes and peppers, may remind us of three years ago when we scoured the shops in search of eggs and toilet paper, but this time it’s not a virus causing the problem, but weather. Supermarkets have, again, called for calm. But it seems quite likely that the underlying cause of the unseasonably bad weather in southern Europe and north Africa that is impacting yields and affecting our ability to enjoy unseasonal salads is climate change. So now is the time for some reflection on what we buy and why, and to find a better way forward that is better for the planet, better for us and better for our taste buds.  

Why do we want or need a tasteless fresh tomato in the depths of winter? We don’t. Particularly one that has been grown in a heated greenhouse and flown (or shipped, but still with a hefty carbon footprint) to our doorstep. We’ve been told fresh is best, but it really isn’t. Not always.  

Fruit and vegetables taste better when they are as close to their just picked state as possible. We need to learn to eat with the seasons, and as the climate changes, this is going to be something we are forced to learn to do. We need to stop fetishising fresh food over other forms of food, just because that’s what we’ve been told is important by the foodies on Instagram. Food can be canned, dried or even frozen and still taste great. A preserved summer tomato, ripened by the sun and not by coal, and put in a can, is tastier and cheaper than fresh tomatoes that taste of…well, whatever it is, it’s certainly not a tomato. We need to stop, and we need to stop now.  

You can preserve it yourself, if that’s your thing, or let someone else do it for you. There’s no shame in a packet of frozen vegetables, and it’s good for the planet too. And perhaps it’s time for supermarkets to do some behavioural nudging on this as well, signposting us to the canned and frozen aisles when the fresh aisles are empty. There’s never been a better time than now.  

By Claire Jost

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