As I write this, the UK’s in the midst of a salad shortage. The critics are talking mostly about the tomatoes, but if you listen carefully (keep the noise down out there, will you?), you can hear the lettuces and all their salady friends singing backup.
What’s happening is that tomatoes are scarce, and if you find any on the store shelves they’re expensive. They’re also, as Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey informs us, sorry looking specifmens.
How short are the shortages? Not long ago, I was in my local supermarket looking for what I call an eggplant and the British call an aubergine. When I couldn’t find it, I asked a guy stocking sliced meats nearby if I could ask him a fruit-and-veg question.
“We haven’t got any,” he said wearily.
Since the fruit and veg section wasn’t completely empty, I told him what I was looking for anyway and he pointed them out. He seemed to be relieved to get rid of me without hearing any more moaning about tomatoes.
So where’d the tomatoes go? As usual, the answer depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that cold weather in Spain and Morocco are part of the problem. Most will add that growers in Britain didn’t plant much–or anything–this season because at this time of year they have to grow the tender little beasts in heated greenhouses and high energy prices have made that somewhere in between not economically viable and too depressing to even hallucinate about.
You could add, if you like, that climate change will be doing this sort of thing regularly and we might want to, ahem, think about that. Or you could skip that and ask the weary guy in the supermarket what’s happened to the tomatoes, hoping to get an answer you like better.
UK growers will add that they’re being put off not only by high fuel prices but by the low prices that supermarkets are willing to pay them. Consumers will choke on their turnips and ask what low prices the growers have in mind, exactly, because prices have gone up to maybe-I’ll-make-you-a-salad-for-your-birthday levels.
Why am I talking about turnips? We’ll get to that.
Some people will add that Brexit has a lot to do with the shortages. It’s made the UK more difficult and more expensive to export to, so sellers move it to the back of the line (or queue if you’re British), and when a product is scarce guess who drops off. Reports from France say they have no shortages of salad veg, although the prices have gone up.
But as any British news addict can tell you, Brexit was supposed to let the country negotiate more favorable trade deals than it had in the EU. What happened? My impression is that it hasn’t been a screaming success. The new deal with Morocco has apparently made us harder to trade with, not easier, again moving us to the back of the line.
Sorry, I don’t know the details of the deal and don’t have the oomph it would take to chase them down, that’s why I dropped in a well-worn apparently. I trust they’re suitably absurd.
Since we’ve been having shortages of fairly random products for some time now (I work at our village shop and it makes me aware of how random they are, and how frequent), we could expand the question and add that the just-in-time business model means any hiccup in the supply chain (Covid, anyone?) will lead to shortages of all sorts of products.
It wouldn’t be hard to find people who’ll add that it’s not a viable long-term strategy to depend as heavily as the UK does on India, China, and other countries that produce goods cheaply and ship them long distances.
But back to our salad crisis: The environment minister, Therese Coffey, is trying to guide us through it by encouraging us to eat less imported food and cherish our turnips, which grow locally in whatever ridiculous weather we throw at them.
Are we cherishihng them? Well, the head of an organic vegetable box delivery company is all for eating locally but said, “Winter turnips are an abomination. . . . We don’t grow them. Wouldn’t want to inflict them on our customers.”
Coffey’s intervention hasn’t quieted the tomatoratti, but that’s okay, she didn’t expect to. The government strategy is to keep us making jokes about turnips until warmer weather comes, when the government will claim credit for the victorious return of salad. Any day now, they’ll point that the shortage started under Tony Blair and was Labour’s fault.
To ease us through these trying times, the Guardian devoted a two-page spread to recipes that substitute everything short of socket wrenches for tomatoes. You can, it turns out, make a red pasta sauce out of carrots, celery, butternut squash, and beets–or as the British call them, beetroot. Add vinegar, olive oil, honey, onion, and garlic. Cook everything, blitz it, add fine herbs, and then, whatever you do, don’t serve it to me. I’d get as much joy out of cooking my spaghetti with red food coloring.
You could also forgo the redness and make a sauce involving butternut squash, egg yolks, and yogurt. Or one that uses onion, carrots, ground beef, toasted oats, and black pudding.
I know, I shouldn’t dismiss this stuff without trying it, but I’ve been cooking long enough and I’ve lived in Britain long enough to have learned–or to think I’ve learned–when to look a recipe in the eye and say, “Sorry, but the kitchen is closed for repairs.”
Is it a cheap shot to make fun of British cooks and their recipes? Probably, but they do seem to get carried away with themselves. I mean, surely there are a hundred non-tomato ways to serve noodles without resorting to beets or black pudding. And I don’t say that to diminish Britain as a nation. It’s a wonderful country and I hope it survives the current government, but that doesn’t mean I have to retire my taste buds.
I’d love to give you a link to the article but I couldn’t find it online. Do you suppose someone thought better of it?
And since we’re talking about British politics…
I haven’t written about the Monster Raving Loony Party since early in my blogging non-career, when I had only three followers. Now that I’m up to four, one of which is a lawnmower company that subscribed but never hits Like, so I have to assume they don’t read the posts–
Where were we? Surely it’s time to detour back to that most British of political parties.
The Monster Raving Loonies were formed 40 years ago, in, um, whatever year that was (it’s 2023 now, in case that helps), when David Sutch ran in a Bermondsey by-election under the name Screaming Lord Sutch.
He’d been running since the 1960s, primarily as a way to publicize his music, although you could probably say that his political non-career eclipsed his musical one.
Or skip the “probably. Of course you could say it. The question is, would you be right? I haven’t a clue. The point is that this time it was different: He wasn’t running as one lone loony, he was at the forefront of an entire party of loonies.
In its 40 years, the party’s run candidates in 76 by-elections (they’re the off-schedule ones that happen when an incumbent dies or is convicted of larceny and needs to be replaced) and in every general election. Its candidates have included R. U. Seerius, the Flying Brick, Bananaman Owen, Mad Cow-Girl, Sir Oink A-Lot and Lady Lily The Pink. Not one of them has won and the party’s current leader, Howling Laud Hope, says that any candidate getting too many votes will be kicked out.
Embarrassingly, some of its policies have become law, including pet passports (adopted in 2000), a change to pub opening hours (adopted in 2005), and giving the vote to 16-year-olds (okay, only in some elections and only in Scotland and Wales, but still). The last change must’ve been too much for the party, because it’s now calling for 5-year-olds to be given the vote.
The country’s current political state doesn’t make a good argument for adult competence, so I could be won over on this one.
Howling Laud Hope now describes his party as the official think tank of Parliament.
It’s proposing a high-speed rail line to the Falkland Islands and “a year off from listening to our politicians.”
In 1985, the Conservative government tried to shoo the Loonies off the national stage by making candidates put up a deposit that they’d only get back if they won 5% of the vote. The Monster Raving Loonies coughed up the cash.
How seriously should we take the party? In 2019, one perennial candidate announced that he wouldn’t be running this time because December was “a bloody stupid time for a general election.” On the other hand, John Major described Screaming Lord Sutch as by far his most intelligent opponent.
What’s the party’s future looks like? Screaming Lord Sutch died in 199 and the current chair is in his 80s (which I have to say looks younger all the time), so it might be time to talk about a replacement.
“We might just elect someone’s parrot,” Howling Laud Hope said.