Concerns over Brexit’s daily implications have risen recently as it finally rolled in with the new year. Among the hot-button topics being discussed at the moment are the reality of food shortages in some parts of the UK and bare supermarket shelves similar to those at the start of the pandemic. While these teething problems of distribution are sure to be alleviated as the year progresses, food production will surely still be an area to keep your eye on.
Last month, Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett celebrated how joining the EU benefited and expanded the UK’s culinary palate. Even though Britain has remained distinctly separate from the continent in a number of ways, there are a number of social and cultural shifts that have become embedded within British society since the nation joined the bloc in 1973. The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) retail price index for that year indicated that the common customer’s shopping basket was composed of mutton, instant mashed potatoes and tinned corned beef. In recent decades, muesli, ground coffee, pesto, riesling and pitta bread have all joined that list. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University London, noted that “Mediterranean foods and pizza-eating cafe culture used to be for the British elite. That completely changed and it is remarkable.”
In December, The Daily Mail visualised how the split could result in the increase of some food prices. In turn, this could mean the average consumer having to swap sliced avocado for eggs on toast and brie for cheddar as new tariffs – and therefore costs – escalate. Once colourful plates may gradually regress to shades of beige. Others are concerned not only about rising prices, but also a decrease in food quality overall. As the UK leaves, many have worried that this means more consumable commodities will be imported from North America. The US has regarded EU food regulations as a barrier to trade, and the Trump administration has been working to eliminate or reduce obstacles for US agricultural products to be exported overseas.
Many food writers and journalists have predicted what delicacies may return to our dinner tables in this post-Brexit era. “Perhaps mead will make a comeback,” Cosslett suggested, noting that her favourite wines come from France. While her husband crafts wine from parsnips on occasion, she writes that she’ll most likely remain in favour – as many of us would probably agree – of the grape. Similarly, the UK is the world’s largest importer of halloumi. The British equivalent to this vegetarian staple food is non-existent, prompting Cosslett to wonder: “What will vegetarians eat at BBQs? (The answer is: turnips.)”
Returning to the economic realities of these diet changes, those who are poorer are expected to have less options at the supermarket than before. A 2018 House of Lords select committee report stated that one in five households are already experiencing – or on the margins of – food insecurity. Due to heightened tariffs, this inequality could widen and will make purchasing fresh produce a more exclusive venture.
While it may not be necessary to stockpile, it’s important to be aware of these impending changes as 2021 progresses.