Lucía González Mantecón warns us about the consequences of Brexit on the consumption of fruits and vegetables
The streets are beautifully illuminated, the smell of gingerbread and mulled wine impregnates street markets, and our surroundings progressively turn green, red and glittery. Unfortunately, our reality is not as sugar coated as festive desserts. It is almost Christmas time, which means that every day we are being bombarded by advertisements, targeted by marketing strategies, which subtly compel us to smash the piggy bank and indulge over delicacies with our loved ones. However, this is not a possibility, let alone a distant aspiration, for those who struggle to put food on their tables every day- and those who do not even manage.
Food poverty in the UK is slowly turning into a recurrent reality for many. It is estimated that there are about 4 million adults who struggle to put healthy food on the table on a regular basis, making the UK the country with the second highest rates of food insecurity in Europe. Moreover, the situation could be worsened as a result of Brexit-related food price rises. According to a recent research by The Food Foundation, an independent think tank that tackles the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system, the impact of exchange rates, labour costs and tariffs under a no-deal Brexit could add £158 a year to the already high amount that a family of four would spend on fruits and vegetables.
This increase will severely affect low-income families, who spend the biggest proportion of their household income on food. This comes at a time of rising concern over diet-related illnesses, such as obesity, and their burden on the NHS. Moreover, with increasing pressure of austerity measures and welfare cuts on the poorest families, purchasing a variety of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis will become unaffordable for millions of British households. This situation comes parallel to increasing efforts by the Department of Health to promote fruit and vegetable consumption, since eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer
The Food Foundation estimates that at least 33 of the UK’s most popular fruit and vegetables would be directly affected by new trade rules with the EU. Currently, almost half of all vegetables and 83% of the fruit consumed in the UK are imported, and moreover, homegrown produce is highly dependent on EU migrant labour.
Specifically, a study by the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission found that of the average 28 portions consumed by Britons of the recommended weekly intake of 35 portions of fruit and vegetables, the equivalent to 11 portions come from the EU, 7 from elsewhere in the world and 9 from the UK, but are nevertheless harvested by workers from other EU countries. The equivalent of just one portion was grown in the UK and harvested by British or non-EU workers. Hence, what will be available on the shelves will change dramatically; with delays at ports and all along the food supply system which impact will be felt very quickly.
Consequently, some people will face the shortage of exotic fruit and vegetables, and see their foodie endeavours limited to homegrown produce. However, a no-deal Brexit will mean not only the lack of fruits and vegetables, but altogether of food, for the approximately 17% of UK adults who worry about food supplies running out before they have enough money to buy more, let alone the 8% who experience hunger or spend whole days without eating because of a lack of money.
As Christmas comes closer, you wake up every morning and open a new window of your advent calendar, eagerly waiting for your Christmas feast. However, it is important not to forget about those who wake up and open their wallet just hoping they will have enough money to put any food on their table.