Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Escargots, anyone?

I live in an urban area, without a proper garden, but every year I attempt to grow some token food crops in my Tyneside backyard: runner beans, herbs, lettuce and, if I’m feeling really optimistic, I might risk some chilli peppers and tomatoes.  It’s an endeavour that requires hope to triumph over experience, particularly after the past few dire summers.  My crops are never lavish and each runner bean probably costs more than a pack of frozen ones from the supermarket, but they do bring a sense of achievement and a brief connection with the process of food production.  This year I begin to doubt whether I will even achieve this small harvest, while the snail population explodes.  Our neighbours can probably hear my unrepeatable comments as I pick these pests off my runner beans and crunch them underfoot each evening.  No amount of culling seems to make any difference.  For many farmers, of course, snails are the least of their problems.  The unprecedented amount of rain during the summer has ruined crops in many parts of the country.  This morning, on Radio 4, I heard a farmer from Worcestershire describing the effects on his vegetable plantings.  Pea plants have been battered to the ground and potatoes are under water.  He added, however, that consumers are unlikely to see effects in the supermarkets.  The farmer has to supply at the price agreed in the original contract, and if their own crops are washed away they must buy in from elsewhere, whatever the cost.  This seems like good news for consumers, many of whom are feeling the pinch at the moment.  But it does seem to remove us even further from food production, with its inevitable ups and downs and I do wonder whether this can really be sustainable.  It seems likely that some farmers will go out of business, but will the rest of us even notice?  Increasingly, food is something we take for granted in so many ways.  The average family no longer spends a substantial proportion of its income on food (I heard 9% quoted recently, down from around 30% fifty years ago) and yet we think food is expensive.  Advertisers sell us ready meals that “save time”, implying that time spent on preparing food is time wasted.  I think that if we all attempted to grow some of our own food we would begin to value it more.  That’s why I struggle on with my containers of runner beans and my pots of herbs, in spite of the continuous battle with the snails.  This year I have even wondered whether I shouldn’t adopt a more win-win “Mediterranean” attitude, whip up some garlic butter and serve escargots for dinner!

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