Apparently David Cameron closed the Conservative Party Conference with a rousing speech recently, claiming he was going to secure us all a better future, where we pay less tax, and save the NHS, and no doubt the world along with it. I say apparently because I don't follow politics a great deal, and am one of the many thirty-something's who probably feel a bit alienated and clueless as to what each party stands for anymore. I am simplistic, or maybe naive, in just wanting to accept what I am told so I can make an informed judgement. However, we live in a world where statistics and sentences can be easily manipulated to paint very different truths. So when David Cameron, or indeed any other party-leader opens their mouth, it generally flies in one ear and out the other, and I end up hoping that when the time comes I'll make the choice that is right for me on not a lot more than a best guess.
What I did listen to and take heed of though were the words of Liz Truss, the Defra secretary recently appointed in July. Her conference speech caught my attention, obviously because of its relation to the industry in which I make my living, but also because she spoke passionately about a subject that I too feel strongly about - the over-reliance on food imports.
Ms Truss said it was a 'disgrace' that in this country we import two thirds of the apples we eat, 90% of pears and two thirds of cheese. Now, I'm doubtful as to whether or not I believe it entirely, or whether our old friends at the statistical manipulation department are putting in overtime, but knowing the things I have learned about our nation's food imports and exports I can well believe it - and I too think it's a disgrace, but probably not for the same reasons.
Ms Truss also spoke about Britain's agricultural industry on the global market - “We are growing wheat more competitively than the Canadian Prairies,” and “We’re producing more varieties of cheese than the French. And we are even selling tea to China. Yorkshire tea."
This is all great stuff, and as I have written before, we grow too much wheat for what we need in this country and export a lot. We need the global market too. My issue with the 'over-reliance' on imported foods though, is not the fact that we are not growing them ourselves, it's the fact that we don't really need them, and supermarkets end up throwing half of it away! I find it incredibly sad that we have created a society that relies upon imported fruit and vegetables to keep the global economy moving, when in reality, we have enough room in this country to grow enough food for our own population. Yes we would sacrifice the likes of the fresh pineapple and the coconut, but isn't that a small sacrifice? Some people rely on their car to get them to work in the morning, but if it didn't start, would that be the end ? No, they'd simply cycle, or catch the bus, or get a lift off a friend. To suggest we 'rely' on these imported products creates the impression in my mind that we can't feed our national population without them, which is simply not true. It would just mean we have to return to an era where we eat seasonal produce.
This may be a fairly grey picture to paint, where Winter dinners consist solely of British potatoes, carrots and some green veg every night. However it doesn't have to be that way. Technological advances in food production mean that there are producers growing exotic ingredients right here in our fair country. Commercial chilli growers in Cumbria, quinoa from Shropshire, the climates can be created, or indeed manipulated, to make these successful commercial ventures. The variety of home grown produce can be made available. It's just not as affordable as the imported stuff. So is it really correct to suggest that there is an 'over-reliance' on it?