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Tomato shortage in Britain, a taste of what’s to come

The lack of tomatoes in British supermarkets is a little disconcerting when you are used to eating what you want, whenever you want. Thanks to global supply chains, the British have become accustomed to eating avocados in the depths of winter and spinach at the height of summer. Now, as supermarkets ration cucumbers and bell peppers, our salad days may be over.

Of course, bare shelves are not completely unprecedented these days. The great toilet roll and pasta shortages of the 2020 pandemic are gone but not forgotten. But the dearth of produce in 2023 may just be a taste of what’s to come as the climate crisis screws up weather patterns around the world.

Britain imports 46 percent of its food, with self-sufficiency at about 54 percent in fresh vegetables — tomatoes, although technically a fruit, count as a vegetable here — and just 16 percent in fruit. This is highly dependent on the season: from December to March, the nation imports 95 percent of its tomatoes and 90 percent of lettuce. When it works, it’s great. Some imported foods actually have a lower carbon footprint than the home-grown stuff — a 2009 study found that importing lettuce from Spain to Britain during winter results in three to eight times lower emissions than producing it locally.

But the collision of Brexit, the energy crisis, and climate change have wrenched salad off the menu for the next few weeks at least.


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