We are living through uncertain and scary times as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread rapidly through the human population.
Whilst the pandemic has seen numerous acts of local kindness it has also seen examples of brazen selfishness and stupidity, in particular through the panic buying and stockpiling of food, hand sanitizers and – bizarrely – toilet rolls.
Some UK supermarkets are beginning to resemble their third-world counterparts, with rows of empty shelves and rationing of some essentials.
Aside from revealing the best and worst of human nature, the pandemic has also revealed just how precarious our supply food lines are.
Setting aside the panic buying, which has resembled Christmas on steroids, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that in the not-too-distant future supermarkets will really struggle to restock, through a combination of challenges bringing in food imports from countries in lockdown and drivers and other key workers succumbing to the virus.
Supermarket warehouses typically hold around two weeks’ worth of stock. For fresh foods and perishable items, the time lag is even less. Add panic buying into the mix and these fragile supply lines are likely to deplete even more quickly.
Perhaps one of the long-term lessons from this awful situation is for us to become less dependent on supermarkets and big corporations for such a fundamental, existential activity as eating.
Another lesson must be to reassess our relationship with, and exploitation of, animals.
Like the 2003 SARS virus, Covid-19 is believed to have started in a so-called wet market. In wet markets, live and dead animals are on sale, including dogs, pigs, chickens, wild cats, rats and snakes. Vendors also often slaughter animals in front of customers. All these factors make it easier for the transfer of zoonotic diseases.
But we will get through this.
Today is the first day of spring. There’s never been a better time to get in the garden or onto your balcony and start growing at least some of your own food.
It’s so much more healthy and more productive to be outside using your hands to plant and sow in the soil than it is to use them to push a trolley laden with toilet rolls in a short-tempered checkout queue of people all doing the same.
The start of the planting season means we are hitting that time of the year that was once known as “the hungry gap”, when edible plants from the old season are finished off but before the new season’s plants have grown.
The undervalued swede (known as rutabaga in the USA) is one of the last of the old season’s “tough guys”, alongside such stalwarts as leeks, kale and purple sprouting broccoli. Often steamed and mashed, swede can also make rather tasty fries, as this simple recipe demonstrates.
1 swede, peeled and cut into long chips or fries
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp smoked paprika
Pinch chilli powder
25 ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). Whisk together the olive oil, turmeric, smoked paprika and chilli powder.
2. Put the fries into an oven dish. Pour in the spiced oil and toss to combine. Place in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until the fries are beautifully coloured and starting to crisp. Give the pan an occasional shake throughout the cooking period to ensure even roasting.
3. Serve hot!