Susie Lau: ‘Supermarket shortages should make us realise the true value of the produce we have’

 (ES Magazine)
(ES Magazine)

You have no eggs?’ In my slightly bleary-eyed state after a heavy weekend of London Fashion Week slog, I was attempting to replenish the cupboards with some grocery basics. Only to be told by the woman at the Co-op (quite a boujie, revamped one, by the way) that there were, in fact, no eggs. She said it with the raised-eyebrow implication that there had been a problem with egg shortages for some time. And yet I just stood there, repeating, ‘You have no eggs? NO eggs? No eggs?’ putting different tonal emphasis on each word. ‘We’re sleepwalking into a food crisis tunnel without any light at the end,’ said Lee Stiles of Lea Valley Growers Association back in December. I believe Lee of Lea Valley now. I quite literally sleepwalked my way into an eggless existence.

Of course, running out of eggs is par for supermarket course nowadays. Numerous items have been undergoing specific shortage cycles: avocados, baby formula, turkeys. The latest shortage affliction is centred on salad ingredients — specifically peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. I nearly understood the plight of the Welsh mum in Lidl who was recently barred from trying to buy 100 cucumbers. Until I found out it was for her juicing business. Mums of young children (myself included) rely heavily on this salad pillar (accompanied by huge tubs of hummus) to feed sprogs some semblance of veg.

Our mainland European neighbours have been flexing with posts of markets and shops piled up high with lusciously ripe tomatoes. Just another way they are exercising their rightfully smug ‘I told you so’ post-Brexit schadenfreude. I’m in Milan at the moment where I stood for a minute in a market in Brera to look longingly at some San Marzano beauties. The stall owner understood. ‘You like?’ he smirked.

And yet I just stood there at the Co-op, repeating, ‘You have no eggs? NO eggs? No eggs?

When trying to reconnect a phone line in my old house, I was told the exchange was full and that the line had no way of being reconnected. I began imagining wartime-era telephone operators with kiss-curl bobs, crepe tea dresses and seamed stockings, plugging and unplugging phone lines in a little room and finding that my little hovel house in Seven Sisters was the dead spot that just had to be lopped off the exchange. It was further proof that we’ve teleported back to some post-war redux, a world where rationing and isolated connectivity, on top of the litany of strikes bringing services to a standstill, becomes the norm. I’m slightly ashamed at my own confounded disbelief when I was standing in the supermarket, so perplexed as to why I wouldn’t be able to make scrambled eggs with avo toast. Headlines and viral memes of this tough, new reality are no longer exaggerations. We’re all living it in some way, and beginning to accept that an abundance of everything and anything is perhaps going to be thing of the past. We’ll pass through this passage of no-brassica, egg-free, sans-tomato life. And we’ll move on to another shortage of sorts.

And not to preach from a sustainability parapet, but maybe we should realise the true value of being able to cook tomatoes flown in from Spain and Morocco in the dead of winter. And perhaps somewhere down this food and produce chain, autonomy might actually need to shift at least partially back to, you know, those people who physically nurture and pick all this bounty. Or pick out the dud eggs from a factory line. All power to them.