Wandering around the many areas of Merseyside, one is struck by the shuttered shops that now form the toothless grin of many a high street in recession. Many of those gaps, I have noticed, are being filled with the shiny frontage of “metro” supermarkets. As a consumer it is easy to feel instant relief at this. Convenient, open late, and an indication that things are improving in the economy perhaps? However, the march of the supermarkets seems to hide a dark problem.
Recently, I was lucky enough to spend the day with a farmer friend. Young, enthusiastic and the organiser of the Wirral Food Festival, his optimism was important in the face of the challenges faced by local growers. He explained how important the festival was in showcasing the best of local food producers as they may well be a dying breed. I was very interested to know how we could stop this from happening. We the consumers, it seems, hold the key. Choose your local shops over the supermarkets as much as you can.
It seems the supermarkets are ruthless in negotiation, often making verbal agreements for huge orders only to reject the produce if is not “body beautiful” or for any other minor reason. Farmers are also forced to grow more than they can expect to supply as there are hefty penalties (financial and the lack of repeat business) incurred if they come up short. This results in huge wastage and massive loads of unwanted produce being “dumped” on the market, demolishing the value of British meat and veg altogether. I was so surprised to hear that the wonderful “buy one get one free” offers are paid for by the farmers, not the supermarket. If supermarkets are selling to us for a discount, they are forcing the farmers to sell to them for that discount. No skin off the nose of the supermarkets and totally devastating to the farmers who are over a barrel. Similarly with the producers of British meat. We as consumers are demanding huge amounts of cheap meat. We would rather travel to a supermarket and pay a few pounds less for meat and veg than pay that bit extra and buy from our local butcher or farm shop.
There is a huge price to pay for this, consumers: the death of local business! We have a choice how we spend our money. In saving a couple of pounds this is what we lose as a nation. We lose the very heart and lungs of our high streets, our butchers, green grocers and fishmongers. By insisting on perfectly formed vegetables, we encourage supermarkets to tyrannically reject perfectly delicious British produce. As a cook and food writer, I know full well that the best flavours lie deep in the matured, the gnarled and the knobbly.
Think about our favourite holiday destinations – what we love about them are the local artisan bakers, the shop windows full of cheeses and hams, the beautiful bright chaos of the fruit and veg stalls, and local produce in local restaurants. Well, here’s the thing, we can have all of those things here in our very own highstreet if we just keep supporting our local shops.
My challenge to you is this: to go meat free one day a week. Have better quality meat from your local butcher less often. This small sacrifice will save your local producers, your high street, and your health.
I know that asking an Englishman to give up meat is like asking him to remove a limb, but it’s just one day. Just think – by doing this and spending what you save at your local butchers and greengrocers, you are saving the charming food markets, the wonderful produce, and the bustling high streets that make up the very heart of England.
Meat Free Monday Spiced Fritters
Cup full of Gram Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 heaped teaspoons of curry powder or garamasala
Vegetable chunks-any trimmings
Mix all the ingredients except the veg with enough water to give you a thick pancake mix consistency. Chop all your left over veg trimmings, dunk them in the batter and plunge fry. Great way to turn your left overs into crisp spiced nuggets.
Pimp My Rice
Available 15th October 2015
Preorder from Amazon now.