The shortage of lettuce in our supermarkets at the beginning of February made me stop and reflect on environmental awareness. Having done a little research, it seems that iceberg lettuce was not the only vegetable that was depleted on our supermarket shelves. Courgettes, tomatoes and spinach were also been running low. So why did this happen? Could it happen again? And what does it mean for my lifestyle and nutrient needs?
According to BBC News, a combination of flooding, cold weather and poor light levels created the ‘perfect storm’ of poor growing conditions, depleting supplies from Spain and Italy which we rely on in the UK. Some suppliers were therefore turning west, to the US, to import fruit and vegetables, with higher transit costs and, of course, very little environmental awareness.
Importing More Goods is due to lack of Environmental Awareness
All of this made me ask myself, as I’ve done many times before, why on earth we need to import so much fruit and veg from abroad when we have perfectly good soil to grow our supplies in the UK. OK, I understand the challenge of growing more exotic varieties but, then again, we could have more greenhouses and is it really necessary to import 50% of our lettuce from overseas? What has happened to environmental awareness?
It all comes down to our consumerist lifestyles and habits. We demand more and more and our supermarkets want to sell us more and more. We don’t care that vegetables are out of season – we’re out of touch with the natural rhythms of the earth and we want them anyway. We’re so used to going out and getting anything we want, that it comes as quite a shock to the system when we’re halted in our tracks by short supplies and corresponding rising prices.
Unbelievably, the Telegraph reported that a ‘black market’ for lettuce sales emerged amid the national salad shortage with lettuces on sales from ‘car boot’ suppliers for up to 5 times their usual value.
Even Elton John has waded into the romaine lettuce crisis saying that he’s not bothered – he’s more of a ‘rocket man’ apparently! Sorry…couldn’t resist that!
Environmental Awareness leads to People Response
There’s a silver lining in that it’s probably made a lot of us more aware of just how reliant we are on imports and perhaps turned some of us towards wonderful British spring greens, carrots and parsnips, which is just what we should have been eating at in the early Spring.
Another lovely story, also reported in the Telegraph, is that sales of lettuce seeds have soared in the wake of the shortage. I’m sure I was seeing multiple varieties of lettuce heads on windowsills in the preceeding months – a beautiful sight, providing all the fledgling gardeners remembered to keep them well watered.
I’m sure I also noticed a spike in garden and allotment activity over the past few months, as shoppers tried to protect themselves from further rationing and do their bit to limit the environmental impact of all those greens flying around the world!
Sadly though, we are creatures of habit, and it feels as though we have forgotten very quickly the crisis of our lettuce shortage and reverted to old ways. Perhaps a shortage of summer tomatoes, cherries and apples are needed to raise our environmental awareness again and remind us that we could be eating local and growing our own as part of our duty to reduce our environmental impact?