It may only have been lettuce, rather than a staple foodcrop, but some of the supply problems faced by UK supermarkets over the past few weeks provide a fascinating glimpse into the fine margins upon which much of our food supply now depends.
The Murcia region of Spain, the main source of fresh salad crops in UK supermarkets over the winter months, has recently suffered unusually heavy rains and flooding. This has created shortages of lettuces, as well as broccoli and celery, forcing some UK supermarkets to turn to US suppliers to help bridge the gap. The bad weather in southern Spain has not only destroyed crops but also damaged seedlings, meaning supply problems further down the line may be possible.
Keeping a supermarket stocked with food is a complex logistical operation, which generally works like clockwork. But behind those well-stocked shelves of fresh and processed food products is a system which has been slimmed down to fine margins.Supermarket rely upon their stocks being replenished daily from convoys of delivery lorries and at any one point in time there is only around three days worth of food in the supply chain.
On one level this makes sense. The best place to store fresh food is in the ground, where it has been grown, until it is needed. But it becomes a problem when so many of us now live a long way away from where our food is actually grown. This is the reason for the complex supply chains we depend upon. But what would happen if something far worse that bad weather in southern Spain should fracture the complex supply chain delivering our food to the supermarkets ?
One way we can try to minimise the impact such disruption could make is to aim to eat locally grown produce and to eat seasonally. Even better, we can grow at least some of our own food. Even with limited space it’s possible to grow something.
Cutting out the air miles and the road miles means the supply chain is shorter, more secure and less environmentally damaging. It also means our food is far fresher. And of course that three-days worth of food in the supermarket supply chain means the food we buy there is never as fresh as something picked from our own garden, allotment, balcony or windowsill.
Gigantes is a popular Greek dish side dish, and one of my favourite ways to eat butter (lima) beans.
Here I’ve taken the liberty of giving the dish a Spanish twist through the addition of smoked paprika and saffron, which I think really takes it to another level.
Serve as a tapas dish or as part of a mezze. Alternatively, it would make a great side dish or a centrepiece accompanied by steamed broccoli and sauteed potatoes.
300 g dried butter beans, soaked overnight and then cooked until tender (or two 400g cans butter beans
2 400g cans organic chopped tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
fresh parsley, finely chopped
1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3).
2. Heat the oil in a casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender. Add the garlic. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes, until the onion is very soft. Add the saffron, oregano, smoked paprika, sea salt, tomatoes and 150 ml of fresh water. Increase the heat to medium and stir gently until the contents of the dish reach a simmer.
3. Add the cooked butter beans, stir and place the casserole dish in the pre-heated oven, without a lid, and cook for 1 hour. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the fresh parsley and serve.