Covid, Brexit & Climate Change will alter the pantry of the future

A couple of years ago I attended a wonderful coffee cupping workshop organized by Coffee & strangers here in Malta. It was a lovely morning full of insights and of course great coffee. However, the thing that stuck with me, was when it was mentioned that by 2050 there’s a likely risk that there will be no coffee beans left for production, for various reasons, from disease to overproduction as well as soil biodiversity and of course climate change. Now, we chuckled at the thought and various quips were made in jest. But it’s really not a funny matter. However, we shall put that to one side for a minute as life moved on as it does and I’m still having coffee every morning appreciating it will be a rarity in my 70’s and 80’s if this information is correct. Thank goodness we had coffee over the past year. No coffee, lockdown and a pandemic might have just been too much for some.

What the pandemic has shown, is the supply and demand for items such as pasta, flour, eggs, sugar, even tinned food can become drastically affected overnight. And with struggles in supply and demand, the inevitable happens. The price will rise along with the difficulty to source various items. You may laugh at the idea. But I can tell you from experience, people fought over bread, pasta and sugar throughout the world in 2020. Items that may not even normally form part of weekly groceries were now on everyone’s lists as the baking frenzy took hold and the stockpile mentality made logical people crazy. Living on an Island we felt every bit of it. Pasta, such a staple here was like treasure and flour seemed to vanish for weeks on end. If people were not baking then they were making pasta! Limits eventually being put on the quantity you could purchase of certain items. Like a modern-day ration book system, the online cart would only allow 4 cartons of long-life milk per order as an example. The price of everyday items has risen since Match 2020 right across the board. A couple of cents here and there, slipping onto the household grocery bill over time. Take flour, in May 2020 I could get 800g of plain flour for 85c. Now it’s 89c. Not the end of the world you might say. But imagine you have 43 items of pantry staples in your groceries, and each one has gone up in price by 3c. That will be an additional €12.90 on your bill. The difference is larger when it comes to veg, meat and fish. A head of cauliflower in 2020 cost me 50c. Recently I paid €1.50 for a much smaller head of cauliflower. But we cannot blame the pandemic for everything. That merely showed us human greed, peoples survival instincts and our desperation to entertain ourselves and our children in doors to get us through, in my opinion. The pandemic, has led to delivery problems globally and in Eurpoe we also had BREXIT to contend with.

Small island countries, will always be importers. Especially ones like Malta where there is a small agricultural and industrial framework. So naturally, all those items from cornflakes to Guinness shipped through the UK will now cause problems for retailers and cost the home cook considerably more in groceries, be it meat, vegetables or dried foods. We will look for alternatives from our Eurpoean neighbours. Isn’t that the hope? That they can facilitate supply and demand on those Items we can no longer afford to buy form the UK? I went to buy cat food the other day, and the guy in the store felt it would be unlikely they would be able to stock the particular brand any more as it came in from the UK. He remarked on the number of empty slots on the shelf. I thought it was only the drinks isle getting effected, but alas not! I consoled myself that mainland Europe will be the new supplier of all these things such as pet food, flour, meat, pantry items. No need to fret, at the lenghting list of items not available or rising in cost. All will be well. The European food chain will prevail, its not like its going to evaporate. Right? “Wrong”, said mother nature.

Globally the weather has literally turned upside down with the planet either being roasted with scorching heat or drowned in flood waters and torrential rain. I know this first hand as the temperatures in Malta have been some of the highest on record, with warnings not to use ovens and cooker hobs, or even to go out. 3 heatwaves already, we are overheated in every way. Our Eurpoean neighbours are burning, literally burning in wild fires and drowning in floods. And withith all that climate catastropy are crops, live stock and businesses who are left in total ruin with no produce to export. On a basic level, you need grain for flour and flour for pasta and bread. If there are no crops, there is no food. If there is no food the pantry is empty. A point that was driven home in a recent article in the Times of Malta about how Malta will be a desert island by 2100 and how pasta will be a thing of the past like going to the beach and swimming in the sea. Personally I think it will be sooner.

So how can the home cook weather the never ending storm and ride the wave of change? Honestly I dont know. Soil biodiversity really is an issue, so I wonder if growing your own will be a thing. If its even possible in the future. I hope it can be despite not having a good record in growing things on the balcony myself. I would like to think traditional ways of pickling or eating to season and locally will come back as a way of life. The cost of living and feeding yourself and your family will rise, as it is already doing. So self sufficiency might be a key to survival. I think the fruit and veg we will eat will be of the sturdy kid. Seasons will be brief and ever changing so the homecook will need to be smart, and thrifty. Preserving and pickling jars will have a resurgance, not because its in vogue but because its cost effective and necessary. The pantry of the future will be full of jars, and tins rather than bags of flour, rice and pasta. There will be inventive ways to recreate these items in a lab, a bit like vegan prawns. Mushrooms will become a staple, because they are older than time itself and adabatable. Maybe it will possible to replicate the flavour of roasting coffee from a mushroom. I must contact the local mushroom farm to see what they think of the idea! But until then, I will mindfully drink my real coffee every morning, pondering the ever changing landscape that provides for my pantry and be thankful I still have time to learn how to pickle and brine whatever nature might have to offer.

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