Anyone for salad?

Only in Britain in 2023 could the supermarket shelves be stripped of the stuff most people tactfully leave to one side, having taken the obligatory token amount to show they not completely unreconstructed.

As one wag commented on social media, how are we going to measure the shelf-life of our political leaders when there is no lettuce to go round?

The government response – we appear to have a food minister called Mark ‘And’ Spencer – has been to blame the weather and suggest we tuck into, well, turnip.

Thanks for the serving suggestion, Therese, but I think I might leave those for Baldrick.

Now, it’s true that one of the reasons behind the shortages has been the unexpected bad weather in Southern Europe and North Africa, hampering the harvest there. But that’s only part of the story.

At this time of year, the out of seasonality of such products is usually compensated for by growing the stuff in greenhouses. Greenhouses need power and as you might have noticed, the cost of that has gone up thanks to the war in Ukraine.

Back in the autumn, farmers and food producers in the UK discussed the situation with the supermarkets. Because of the higher gas and electricity prices, that was going to mean their salad items would be more expensive.

The supermarkets decided to go for cheaper imports instead – a decision that has badly backfired all round. The British greenhouses are as empty as the shelves on the supermarket.

At the same time, the situation in the UK has not been replicated across the continent. Over there, the shelves remain better stocked.

Part of that is because we’re fussy eaters: wonky veg is a staple of European supermarkets, whereas British stores will only accept pristine tomatoes and perfect peppers.

Brexit doesn’t help here either: if you were a Spanish producer, would you sell your stuff in Germany, say, or do battle with the paperwork to get it over the British borders?

I’m currently watching the second series of Clarkson’s Farm, where Brexit rears its head time and again.

The main narrative of the series is Jeremy Clarkson’s attempts to open a restaurant selling his produce: an attempt to diversify as EU subsidies disappear.

One of the most striking scenes in the series is a meeting of local farmers: each with their own different, desperate struggles to make ends meet.

And that’s only going to get harder as Brexit trade deals open the markets up to mega-farms with lower safety standards.

Supermarket price wars might be great for the consumer, but less so for our farmers. They need our support, or the current shortages will prove the tip of the iceberg.