Wired with Whelan: We need to cop on when it comes to the bit of dinner

    Ollie Clooney from Durrow, grows over 50 acres of potatoes and a variety of vegetables - available at the farmers market in Portlaoise every Friday. The finest of produce from only down the road

    Lettuce pray … for a bit of cop on at dinner time

    Don’t panic. Don’t change channels. It’s only me, not Fr Paddy.

    But I am down on my knees, praying, nay, begging for a bit of cop on (or should I say crop on) when it comes to that most holy of all daily routines, the bit of dinner.

    It’s amazing how many people would turn their noses up at a fresh bag of mussels for a fiver, still smelling of the Atlantic brine, but can’t wait to wash down a serving of moules-frites with a chilled Chardonnay just fresh off the ferry to Brittany themselves.

    It appears that not just far off shores seem greener, but far off vegetables too.

    One of the great ‘mortal sins’ of our time has to be the amount of food we are importing into this country that we should be producing ourselves. Add to that the wholesale waste of food and farmers feeling they have no choice but to plough produce back into the ground because they can’t get a fair price and well, we’re all going straight to hell.

    Inside the next 50 years global food production must double, just to feed the growing world population, predicted to reach nine billion people. As extraordinary as it may seem, the world has, at best, a six-month reserve of food supply. Combine this with severe climate change and weather patterns in terms of droughts and disease and the potential consequences are catastrophic.*

    You haven’t been imagining it either, as it is now scientifically accepted, that tomatoes have lost their taste. The taste that you remember from your childhood of a ripe juicy tomato, seeds dripping down your chin, has been bred out of them in the interest of crop yield and disease resistance. The result, we get more tasteless tomatoes.

    The issue even made the headlines on the six o’clock news this past week. Bryan Dobson confirmed that supermarkets were rationing lettuce and broccoli and such like due to a shortage…in Spain!!

    Now as this is a family-friendly site I must refrain from a more colourful expression of what I am feeling, but have we no sense of shame.

    Is it not a slur on our national pride that we are relying on broccoli from Spain, onions from France, asparagus from Peru and strawberries from Israel?

    No wonder these vegetables have no taste…they are suffering from jet lag.

    There are a number of sins here. We are importing produce that we should be able to grow at a fair and sustainable price in Ireland for the benefit of our own economy and rural jobs; we are eating tasteless produce with more air miles than a pilot so out of season that it’s good for no one…e.g. strawberries at Christmas; not to speak of the carbon footprint and environmental consequences.

    Brussels sprouts from Laois – that’s what they really look like.

    The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) designed as it was post-WW2 is now redundant and requires a radical rethink to factor in real sustainability and security of supply, in season at local level and not merely churning out subsidised volume.

    Laois grows the nicest strawberries you’ll find anywhere…in season, in the summer, that’s when strawberries are for. You don’t put up the Christmas tree in July.

    As kids we paid for our school books and pocket money from picking fruit in Parkinsons in Monasterevin and Lambe Brothers in Fontstown near Athy. Like so many of the other lads in my class we were into market gardening, we just didn’t know it.

    Laois apples – maybe not as handsome as the French but delicious nevertheless

    Every spring, after school along with the lads from Skirteen, Cowpasture, Old Grange and Boraderra, Monasterevin, we were conscripted by our fathers to help with the vegetable patch. They were in management, we were more on the manure side of things. Dung.

    But part of our internship included learning how to make drills, raised beds, crop rotation, organic pest control, irrigation and how to barrow the best natural fertiliser – even if we didn’t always appreciate it at the time.

    It is a knowledge that was almost completely lost as most young lads today couldn’t tell you their arse from a Brussels sprout. Then the banking crisis unwittingly stimulated a new found fondness for growing your own…and keeping hens.

    But we are slipping back into our old habits and without the British love affair with the allotment we are happy to run down to the supermarket to purchase perfectly shaped but tasteless produce from all over the globe.

    It’s a terrible pity, as we have some fantastic food growers and artisan producers here in Laois and throughout the country.

    Broccoli from Timahoe! Grow your own, buy Irish and beat the rationing.

    Sure we live in an open market and people like choice. But judging by the interest in the keep fit and lifestyle columns on LaoisToday, you also want to keep healthy, what better way to do it than to eat tasty, local produce in season and give up yer ould sins of asparagus from Peru, strawberries from Israel and don’t get me started on garlic from China.

    You could grow them yourself (even start with an herb box) or at least buy them from local or Irish suppliers and in the process, save yourself, your soul and the planet…

    *If you fancy a little further light bedtime reading on this issue, check out the paper from Prof Stephen P Long and Johannes Kromdijk from the University of Illinois – One crop breeding cycle from starvation.


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    John Whelan has been a journalist, commentator, columnist, political analyst, campaigner, politician and publisher ever since he was 17. Having been Editor of the Leinster Express, Offaly Express and the Leinster Leader he has also contributed extensively on a number of issues to all of the country's flagship titles and programmes including the Irish Press, The Irish Independent, the Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Business Post, The Sunday Times and Prime Time. He is founder of Communicate Ireland a PR, public affairs, event management and media services company. He is the author of the popular camping blog, Vanhalla - Camper Heaven.