Buying British: why we should and how to do it
Findlay Kember-Associated Press
The UK produces some of the best food and drink in the world - you only have to sink your teeth into a sliver of stilton to know that - and there's never been a better time to celebrate our wealth of local producers, supporting the British economy while you're at it. Here we tell you about some of the schemes that help protect the origins and authenticity of our home-grown foodstuffs, and suggest ways for you to discover the wealth of British produce, doing your bit for your country in the process. Best of all, it needn't cost you an arm and a leg. Here's how.
While it might not have always had the best reputation (anyone for a spam sandwich?) British food has come into its own in recent years, with leading chefs championing local produce and a growing consumer appetite for farmers' markets and artisan producers. Even the supermarkets have got in on the act, putting local sourcing on their agendas and driving growth in British food sales in the process. Some 88% of us are proud of where we come from, and around 50% of us look for specifically British products when doing our food shopping. So what exactly are the benefits of making an effort to buy British?
Why buy British?
Meat Promotion Wales
Various schemes protect the source of your meat, so you know it's been produced to agreed welfare standards
Well, aside from the fact that food that's travelled less tends to be fresher, many believe that eating British fruits and vegetables in season is good for you because they contain the nutrients, minerals and trace elements that our bodies need at particular times of the year. Plus, there's no better time to support our country's economy and domestic supply chain than in the midst of an economic downturn, and by buying food that has been grown or raised within these shores, you're also fuelling jobs associated with that production process, and having less of an environmental impact by cutting down carbon footprints. Then there's the issue of production standards: British meat and chicken is produced to some of the highest welfare standards in the world: no growth-promoting hormones are allowed and any antibiotics are administered only under veterinary direction.
Many chefs think British food simply tastes better
But of course, the proof is in the tasting. Which is why it's worth noting how most of the country's top chefs get really excited about patriotic produce. For award-winning chef Sat Bains, whose restaurant in Nottingham sources 95% of its ingredients from Britain, making the most of the British seasons is a no-brainer.
Restaurant Sat Bains
Nottingham chef Sat Bains sources 95% of his restaurant ingredients from Britain
"It's about finding out what's in season, and therefore in its prime on the British Isles and utilising it to your best abilities," he says. "You're being led by the seasons and the producers and getting fresh ingredients as a result. There's also a sense of authenticity because you know where your food is coming from. Many British producers are so passionate about their products, so you're getting a sense of history and heritage when you buy them too."
This idea of quality and authenticity is at the heart of two EU schemes that are designed to guarantee the provenance and standards of certain foods - Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Both aim to protect the identity and integrity of traditional and regional British foods, i.e. to ensure that they can't be produced elsewhere or imitated. Foods that are covered by this protective status include such classics as the Cornish pasty (PGI), Whitstable oysters (PGI), both blue and white stilton (PDO), Melton Mowbray pork pie (PGI), Newcastle Brown Ale and Welsh lamb (PGI).
So what difference does protected status make?
In short, a big one. Being awarded the status demonstrates that the product is produced and processed to agreed standards and specifications recognised at EU level, and that the product has a defined regional connection. So when you buy PGI accredited Welsh lamb (look out for the gold and blue symbol), you know you're getting lambs that have been raised extensively on natural green pastures, according to the traditional husbandry practices of Welsh farming. Twenty-nine-year-old Welsh lamb farmer Myrddin Davies, whose family has been rearing lamb for four generations, explains.
Meat Promotion Wales
Welsh lamb farmer Myrddin Davies
"Buying PGI Welsh lamb means that you're guaranteed it's been born, reared and slaughtered in Wales using traditional methods. You're not just buying the lamb, you're buying the guarantee and the tradition and heritage that goes with that." And where can we find the lamb? "All good supermarkets stock it, and ask your local butcher. Provided that the lamb has been born and slaughtered in Wales, according to the PGI standards, it will have a logo. It's available all year round, and autumn is when it's most plentiful." And does it come with a premium price tag? "It's the same as with any meat," he says. "There's cuts to suit every pocket."
The Red Tractor scheme
Meat Promotion Wales
Knowing the land where your food has come from helps you to make an informed decision at the till
Another guarantee of food provenance is the Red Tractor scheme, which pledges that the food you're buying has been farmed, processed and packed in the UK. Look out for the red and blue logo, which you'll see on everything from meat, poultry, fruit and veg to flour and beer in all the major supermarkets, and on a growing number of restaurant menus. As well as providing traceability, so you know where your food has come from, the scheme also guarantees standards of food safety and animal welfare.
A final word...
There are other simple ways of seeking out British foods too:
- When you can, shop in local greengrocers, butchers, farm shops and markets.
- Speak to the person selling you the products about the goods' origins.
- Supermarkets are doing their bit too - check out the Want to Buy British website, which shows which British foods are sold in which supermarkets.
Buying British doesn't have to be complicated, or cost the earth - it's about supporting our food chain and buying ingredients that you can trust, for you and your family.
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