Being lucky enough to live where we do and in the age we do, we are not accustomed to seeing bare or significantly depleted supermarket shelves. Nor are we used to being told how and when we can shop for our food.
Thanks to COVID-19, the days of popping out for a few bits and bobs as we fancy – and being virtually guaranteed to find those items stocked in abundance – now seem like a luxury and a privilege that, if we’re honest, most of us simply weren’t aware of.
Now, as lockdown measures begin to ease and we start to contemplate a return to ‘normality’, there’s an important question begging to be asked: are there any lessons we can learn from how COVID-19 affected our shopping habits; are there any changes that we made that we’d like to keep?
We know there has been a spike in Welsh butchers offering online sales and home deliveries during lockdown, and with customers leaving the house on fewer occasions and for shorter periods, perhaps the convenience of buying local has been firmly put back on the agenda for many shoppers.
No bad thing, according to Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales Chief Executive, Gwyn Howells.
In giving evidence by video link to a committee of the Welsh Parliament recently, he emphasised that the disruption caused by COVID-19 to food chains has actually served to highlight the importance of food security for Wales, and could be used to inform future policy.
Put simply, ‘food security’ means the extent to which we can rely on having the food we want and need, as we want and need it. As Gwyn explained to AMs:
“The [Coronavirus] crisis has placed a strain on businesses within the sector. Some have been able to innovate and create new local supply chains to meet consumer demand.
“As we look to the future after the current crisis, we must learn the lessons and ensure that people have a reliable source of high-quality protein, produced to high environmental standards, whatever the disruption caused by external events.”
Fortunately, Wales is in a good position to offer strong, sustainable and high-quality food – in particular, red meats like porc, Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef – for consumers in years to come. This is because our landscape, including our rich grassland, high rainfall and natural topography, makes for a perfect environment in which to farm these animals.
Now more than ever, the importance of having access to good quality, fresh food is at the forefront of people’s minds. With fewer links in the supply chain if you buy locally, that food is not only more secure and more reliable to make it to the shop shelf or butcher’s counter, but better for the planet too once it does due to its lower food miles.
Following the Second World War, when food security was last a major issue for the UK, more land was turned into farmland as the nation realised that if any future crisis were to occur, it needed to be able to feed itself without relying on uncontrollable outside forces. It has taken Coronavirus to remind us that sometimes, life doesn’t go to plan, and that when it doesn’t we need to be able to support ourselves.
Whether it is bought direct from the producer at the farm gate or farmers’ market, or through your butcher, almost all of us in Wales live within a stone’s throw of farmland, and behind that familiar landscape lie the two essential and basic ingredients to food security: the farmer, and the animals. Shopping for local meat and other produce keeps local economies strong, food security high, food miles down and communities together – a message Glyn is keen consumers take from the recent crisis.
We have been thankful for key workers – which includes food producers – during COVID-19. We have needed them in a way we have never known before in this generation.
In the coming weeks, months and maybe even years, once the lockdown lifts and coronavirus begins to become a memory, let us not forget what it felt like to have no or reduced access to the things we needed, like food.
Let us remember the importance of supporting our food producers, and to continue to support Wales’s farming, agricultural and food industry by buying local out of choice rather than necessity, so that they are there the next time we need them, too.
Visit the where to buy page for a full list of Porc Blasus producers and retailers and use our interactive map to find your nearest farmer and stockist.