Thomasina Miers: ‘As supermarket shelves emptied, it became clear that we need to do things differently’

For the first time in decades the industrial food system started to unravel. But asks the food writer and chef, could this be the chance for us to embrace a better and healthier way of eating?

I have been shopping at my local farmers’ market for a decade. It does not stock ingredients from around the world such as lemons, limes or avocados but you can find a wide range of locally grown produce from apples and squashes, to leaves and herbs, to affordable cuts of meat and sustainable species of seafood like herring, mussels and crab. The ingredients are grown locally, so they are also locked into the seasons: strawberries are only available in summer, asparagus in May and June, courgette flowers, squashes, brassicas and game from late summer through to autumn. I know by name the people who grow the food that we eat and there is something empowering about buying directly from them.

Not everyone in the UK has a local food market – and not everyone can afford to shop at one – but something happened over the last two years that made people begin to appreciate different ways of shopping. The speed with which the supermarket shelves emptied at the start of lockdown highlighted just how insecure our food systems are: it was often easier to find locally produced food in markets and farm shops, delis and online, than in supermarkets. As the panic-buying phenomenon unfolded, producers and farmers could communicate stock availability directly to the consumer through social media channels and establish themselves to a wider demographic. For the first time in decades, the industrialised system that had slowly separated us from the people who grew our food started to unravel and many of us realised that food shopping could be a different, altogether more pleasurable experience.

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