This guest post is published around the Joint Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society in Madison, WI, occurring June 13-16, 2018. #foodstudies18
By Alex Colás, co-author of Food, Politics, and Society: Social Theory and the Modern Food System
Meetings in Brussels, Westminster and Florence have all understandably been the focus of recent commentary on Brexit. Yet the consequences of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU go beyond the high politics of summitry, increasingly appearing in the everyday lives of UK residents, including the great British institution of the Friday night curry. During the 2016 referendum campaign, leading Brexiteers secured the support of the Bangladesh Caterers Association – a major organisation representing the sector – with the promise that leaving the EU and ‘taking back control’ of immigration would ‘save our curry houses’. Two years on, and one before Britain leaves the EU, representatives of this emblematic sector of the country’s catering industry say they are disappointed. In addition to the important matters of migration, employment and business growth, the post-Brexit fate of the curry house also raises a number of other issues relating food and politics, such as national identity, public health, fisheries and agriculture, commodity supply chains, fast food workers, food standards and changing consumer tastes.
With just over 30 percent in value terms of Britain’s just-in-time food supply coming from within the European Union, the UK’S food security is likely to be compromised. Arecent authoritative report warns that Britain’s nutritional and political stability could be undermined by price volatility, sharpening inequalities and erosion of public trust following Brexit. Far from being an anecdotal sideshow in the increasingly fraught Brexit negotiations, the effects of the divorce on Britain’s food economy are starting to become apparent in both the agricultural and hospitality sectors, so dependent on EU labor. But high prices and staffing shortages could also reverse almost three decades of food revolution in the UK, which has seen the country – and its capital in particular- make vast strides in the quality and range of its gastronomic offer. An ironic outcome of Brexit might be that, just as its elites claim back sovereignty from Europe, Britain loses a recently-acquired identity as one of the continents most exciting food destinations.