Friday, 13 March 2015

Anyone For A Takeaway?

In the various elections taking place in the western world and in our own Atlantic Isles there is a ghost at the feast, almost literally.  It is something we do not talk about much these days because it is almost forgotten being relegated to a difficult subject best avoided in the clamour of trivia and headline material.

It is food supply.  At present we are complaining about austerity, debt and shortages of money yet at the same time according to the figures in the UK we are spending a smaller proportion of our incomes on food and a lot less than at times in the past.

This releases money for all the other things that excite and delight us and those gizmo's needing continual replacement.  With energy costs going down as well the economy is becoming highly dependent on consumerism, property and finance.

Historically this is an anomaly.  In the past middling and lower income households would be expected to have to meet higher relative food costs with the added concerns of potential sharp and unplanned rises when real shortages occurred as they could and did.

How has this miracle occurred and can we be assured that it will last and have no problems?  At present, there has been strong competition between the major supermarket chains with price wars.  This has certainly impacted on them as the business pages carry tales of woe in the aisles. 

Even with a rising population which might be expected to put pressure on the market, more and different types of food in the shops and our town centres now becoming eateries as much as any other activity, most of us can afford it.  And do not mention the obesity issue o r the amount of waste.

Yet the very production and supply systems that have enabled this revolution to happen creates risks of their own.  For most it is not what we think it is.  It is mass production coupled with global reach and again with finance at its heart.   It has been a source of major profit and financial activity that is now the key.

It is also increasingly complex and as such vulnerable. I have read that a substantial proportion of the UK food processing and manufacturing now is carried out in 25 major plants, give or take a handful at the margins.

They are the key suppliers of the supermarkets and other major chains etc. and the lynch pin of most of the supply systems through their distribution networks in to manufacture and out to the shops, eateries and takeaways.

The ingredients come in are large packs of the items that go into the products and what goes out are the brands and packages that are familiar to us from the marketing and advertising.

The ingredients listing will tell only a part of the story.  A great deal of what is left out is substances used in the processing both in the major plants and around the many and various suppliers of all the elements now necessary to these products.  This is not for the faint hearted.

What started out as a natural food may be far from it at the end.  That is if it is natural; the high tech' world of able scientists can come up with substitutes that are not only more reliable but a lot cheaper.  The various claims for this and that being bad for you has impacted on new inventions, constantly ahead of the game.

In the meantime, while there are many people trying to provide traditional food by other means, our experience is that they are up against it and in the last couple of decades the network of local supply and retailing of traditional foods has atrophied.  The internet has allowed some to have greater scope but it is harder for old fashioned foodies to find and obtain what they want locally.

There is a great deal of information and debate about all of this elsewhere but not at the highest political levels. What few realise it seems is how high risk, exposed and vulnerable the central part of food supply is now to shocks or serious disruption however good or bad you may think it is.

We have not been here before because our present supply facilities and systems have arisen only in the last few decades.  Also, we have had the good luck to avoid either major conflicts or weather disruptions or such to trigger a breakdown.

Can this last?  We do not know because the issue of off the agenda for debate or political action.  When the truck drivers threatened a strike recently the smart money was on three days before the supermarket shelves were cleared.  Is anyone betting on it?

And the takeaway will have nothing to be taken.

1 comment:

  1. Decades ago my father had to visit a jam factory on business. He saw a chap walk up to a vat of yellow/green gunge and pour in the contents of a small red bottle. Bingo! Strawberry jam.