How to eat well in a crisis

During the corona virus pandemic, the UK food system has come under greater pressure than at any time in living memory. Panic buying and stock piling has caused massive disruption to the food supply chain. Empty shelves have alarmed everyone and even online deliveries to people isolated at home are impossible to book.

Eating nutritious food is very important during a health crisis and helps to maintain physical and mental health. Here are some insights into the current situation and tips on how to feed your family during this difficult time.

Is there a shortage of food in the UK?

Retailers and suppliers have made clear there is enough food to feed the population of the UK. Even in the locked down areas of Italy and Spain people are still going to work in the food industry, ports are still open and food is still moving through the supply chain. It is stock piling and panic buying that has caused food shortages on supermarket shelves.

Panic buying and stockpiling what impact do they have?

Supermarkets are seeing is a tenfold increase in what people are buying. Consumers are buying stock forward. Supermarkets say it’s a bit like Christmas without any planning.

Where are most of the food shortages occurring?

Although we have enough food to feed the UK there are some interruptions in the supply chain. Foods that are particularly affected are pasta, Italian plum tomatoes and some frozen food. There are concerns about the fresh vegetable season in the UK which starts in a few weeks. Labour for picking fresh food in the UK is likely to be limited as much of the workforce is recruited from Eastern Europe where travel bans are in place.

The fruit and vegetable growing industry is talking to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) about special measures that might overcome getting these workers into the UK.

What is being done to ensure food arrives on supermarket shelves?

In Spain fruit and vegetable production is being increased to make sure there is still enough fresh food available to the UK. Most supermarkets have placed limits on what people can buy e.g. a maximum of three of some products. Time is set aside in supermarkets for elderly and key workers to shop first.

Food coming from Europe

Forty eight percent of the food we consume in the UK comes from around the world and 29% of that comes from Europe. There is a downturn in terms of what is coming out of Europe but food is getting through to the UK.

How to manage food during a crisis?

  • Get organised and use a logistics approach to managing your household supplies.
  • Draw up a menu plan and shopping list for the week ahead. Make this digital so that you can call it up and repeat if necessary.
  • Audit your store cupboards and freezer so you know what they contain. Check food stores before you go shopping so you do not over buy.
  • Think about how you store food. Vegetables that grow in a cold climate like beetroots and carrots can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge. Tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and produce grown in a warm climate can be stored in a vegetable rack at room temperature.
  • Organise your freezer. Milk and bread can be frozen. Cheddar cheese can be grated and frozen. This is great from sprinkling on vegetable dishes, making cheese on toast and other quick meals. Bags of peas, spinach, broad beans, berries in sealed bags are a great stand buy. Take out as many as you need, reseal the bag and pop back in the freezer.
  • Batch cook Bolognese sauces, lasagnes, casseroles and chilli con carne when you can. Cook two and freeze one for later.
  • Now is the time to sow seeds such and salad leaves, parsley and rocket. These can be sown in pots and planted in the garden later as the soil warms up. These are great for adding flavour and colour to simple dishes.
  • Learn how to make yogurt and bread so you always have a fresh supply. Then move on to making other interesting fermented products like kombucha (a delicious fermented tea) and kimchi (fermented vegetables).


BBC Radio 4. The Food Programme. Coronavirus and Food

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