I don’t really want my lettuce to have more frequent flier miles than me* and I’m not going to endorse slave labour on Spanish tomato farms. I think apples don’t necessarily need the Andean climate to develop and I don’t want them picked unripe and shipped from Peru. I don’t want mange tout cash crops in famine-stricken regions of Africa and I’m ok with paying a little bit more to not have the creeping feeling that my stir fry has already killed several people and may strike again. I don’t want my leeks to have a carbon footprint greater than Ceredigion’s, is what I’m saying.
I’m not the only one and like any idea with enough worried middle class people getting in on it (gluten, organic milk, effective tampons) supermarkets have identified a sales opportunity. Yes, along with the satsumas for kids (‘it has comic sans on this tag! They’ll love that’) and Finest Chilean Walnut Oil (thanks, Gordon Ramsey) there is now British Produce in supermarkets.
I approve of this- we have fields, we have farms, we shouldn’t be importing food from abroad when we could get it from Kent for crying out loud. And yet (and here is the nub of it) even saying that makes me feel a little.. UKIP.
Thing is, right, that I don’t necessarily think that British food is better than food that can be grown in Peru- it will have travelled less distance, thus been picked later and so possibly have more flavour but is a tomato from a giant greenhouse in Devon really that different from one from France? No and the latter might be 50p cheaper but I’ve got a principle here; I’m saving the environment with potatoes and TRYING NOT TO LOOK LIKE A MASSIVE RACIST.
As I potter around Sainsburys, finding tomatoes from Essex and chillis** from Hertfordshire and perhaps a misshapen “heritage carrot”*** from Yorkshire I find myself hiding them in my trolley and making loud comments about where the fenugreek is because my basket full of union jacks is making me feel like I’m canvassing for Nick Griffin.
“Why do you oppose visas for Turkish vegetables, Hazel?”
“I don’t! It’s fine! I’m just a bit worried about the environment! Turkish vegetables are more than welcome, I’ve done nothing but whinge since I moved away from a Damas Gate store!”
“Then why have you got a floppy round lettuce covered in union jacks? I suppose you hate Polish turnips, too?”
“No no! I love dill mustard! I actually hate English cuisine- look, I’m making Tom Yum”
“Well at least your Oyster Mushrooms are proud to be British”
I approach the till, the charming Australian gap year student boredly ringing through my haul doesn’t make eye contact- perhaps because she’s escaped a country with inhumane immigration laws only to discover that Britons are so racist they won’t even eat food from abroad. This feels like the sort of thing my more extremist grandparents would have approved of, decades of Littlejohn having convinced them that halal meat will make them speak in tongues.
Surely we could get a scheme for this that doesn’t involve flags?
Ok, maybe also a scheme that doesn’t appeal exclusively to readers of the Guardian’s Ethical Living section and actually displays information in a useful format.Perhaps we could just call it ‘low-travel food’ and have a logo, like Simply The Best but less smugly stadium-rock. I don’t care what country it comes from, so long as it’s reasonably local to where I’m eating it, other nations can have their own version without us all walking round constantly tripping over plastic wrapping emblazoned with a flag, like some post-apocalyptic street party, sandwiches suddenly turned into pin-ups for a war they never wanted. I just want to be able to eat an aubergine without suspecting I’m endorsing the BNP, is that too middle class to ask for?
*In all fairness, everyone has more frequent flier miles than me.
**I don’t know why you can get British chillis and pak choi but not leeks because every time I think about it I worry that this is the first step on the intention-paved road to Melanie Phillips.
***”Here are your vintage potatoes, they’re what’s used in the cantine of The Hour for total accuracy of digestive discomfort.”