LETTUCE GIVE THANKS

A lettuce crisis is making Brits rethink just how great free trade really is

As if Brexit wasn’t enough to cope with, Britain is in the throes of a vegetable crisis.

It started with zucchinis, known locally as courgettes, and quickly moved to little gem lettuce. It’s now spread to cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and various forms of fresh greens, in unusually high demand due to people’s need to try and restore healthy eating after the booze-fueled holidays.

The culprit is bad weather, or what Fepex, Spain’s growers association, called “force majeure.” Too much rain and frost hit Murcia, Spain, which accounts for a whopping 80% percent of Britain’s salad and vegetable goods. That has prices soaring, and retailers looking as far as the US and Egypt to fill their barren shelves: Romaine lettuce prices skyrocketed 306% in January, artichokes rose 105%, and cauliflower prices are up 90%.

“Romaine calm!” urged The Times, and the BBC produced a guide on ‘How to cope.’ Twitter fans have declared a #courgettecrisis, with people across the country tweeting images of empty produce bins in supermarkets. Retail analyst Steve Dresser has offered critical commentary on the emerging crisis:

(Note: Salad cream is British for salad dressing.)

The country’s largest retailers resorted to rationing: Tesco, the country’s largest supermarket chain, introduced a three-lettuce limit on icebergs, while rival Morrisons took that down to two and restricted buyers to only three heads of broccoli. Dan McCullough, a wholesaler who has run First Choice Produce for more than 40 years told the Guardian he has “never seen anything like this before.”

Retailers’ spokespeople did not miss the opportunity to invoke a bit of wit. A spokesman for Asda, apologizing for any potential short-term shortage, told a local paper:

“Contrary to popular belief, it seems the rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plain and a run of unusually bad weather has resulted in availability issues on a small number of salad items and vegetables such as courgettes and aubergines.”

Brexit and Donald Trump may be trying to relegate free trade to the junk bin of bad ideas, but Miranda Green, a columnist in the Financial Times, writes that the recent green vegetable events have Brits re-thinking their appreciation of free trade.

“Barring an unlikely political eruption — a boycott of American goods by Europeans disgruntled at the Trump White House, or a campaign by Theresa May’s government to “dig for victory” in the testy trade talks during the UK’s exit from the EU — we will get our veg back, but maybe with a bit more appreciation of the international free trade that magics it on to the plate.”

Depending on Britain’s own unpredictable weather, local produce should start coming online in April. The crisis may help boost local production when it’s ready, with wholesalers saying maybe local savoy cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli will recapture Brits’ imagination, rather than imported foreign produce.

Until then, free trade will bring Brits greens from California and Cairo, reminding them that globalization may not be all bad.

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