When it comes to fruit and vegetable consumption, Britain comes near the bottom of the league, ranking 14th out of 19 countries in a review of eating habits.
According to the not-for-profit European Food Information Council, we typically eat about 258 grams of fruit and vegetables a day, that’s about two-thirds of the EU average.
I know it’s popular to paint Brits as vegetable averse, and not that interested in fruit either, a state of affairs often attributed to our a colder climate (less urge to eat healthily), and the observation that our fresh produce isn’t that appealing because we have a less good climate than sun-kissed southern European fruit and vegetable paradises.
But I think the biggest factor inhibiting our consumption is staring us in the face: the shocking, and unjustifiably high cost of fruit and vegetables in UK supermarkets where most people shop.
As anyone who watches their food spend can testify, you are penalised in British supermarkets for eating your greens. Get carried away in the produce department, popping into your basket all that gear that contributes to your 5-A-Day, you can spend a small fortune. And for what? You will be buying meagre quantities of produce with a price tag that bears absolutely no relationship to the market price.
To be blunt, our large food retailers are using fruit and vegetable sales as a licence to print money. We are asked to pay ludicrously greedy mark-ups on prissy amounts of over-packaged stuff that would cost a fraction down the market or at a local greengrocer. Is it any wonder that we think of fruit and vegetables as the minority part of our diets?
I often shop in Leeds Kirkgate Market, one of Britain’s great old traditional markets. The minute I walk in I feel like a millionaire because I can afford to buy amounts of fruit and vegetables that would be prohibitive in the supermarket. I come away with bags brimming at a fraction of the cost. The latest delight is statuesque stems of Yorkshire rhubarb, precisely half the cost of the nearest supermarket and in much better nick too, because the stems haven’t been snapped in two to fit into their cellophane wrappers.
Earlier this month I strolled through the outdoor market in Boston, Lincolnshire. The produce was fantastic. Being the market town for a renowned horticultural area, it was a stimulating showcase for what Britain can produce even in the depths of winter. Stunning January King cabbages or a hard-headed cauliflowers were on offer for 50 pence a time. Looking at them made me hungry. Fabulous beetroot, vibrant kale, fresh horseradish, curly watercress- it stimulated the urge to cook, not least because it didn’t come with a price tag that simultaneously killed it.
The imported fruits were noticeably cheaper than in supermarkets. Cartons of perfectly firm blueberries for a £1, three pomegranates for £1, I could afford to eat them until they are coming out my ears.
My local greengrocer, Arshad, can’t quite match these prices- he has rent and rates to pay- but his prices are also keen compared to their mysteriously inflated supermarket equivalents. Buying his herbs always gives me a thrill: fistfuls of leafy flat parsley, mint and coriander for the cost of a puny stalk or two in the supermarket.
At my weekly Farmers’ Market, I can buy salad leaves, potatoes and basic vegetables like carrots for less than in the supermarket, and that’s choosing the organic ones.
It’s high time that the government set up an inquiry into the high cost of fruit and vegetables in Britain. It might expose how supposedly responsible supermarkets are artificially inflating the cost of fruit and vegetables to fill their coffers.
Sadly, I suppose that’s a lost cause. Instead, I expect we’ll have to go on swallowing sanctimonious little lectures on how we should be upping our 5-A-Day as though price had nothing to do with it.
First published on http://www.joannablythmanwriting.com Monday 16th Jan
For information on Joanna’s forthcoming book ‘What to Eat’ click here