As it turns out, it only took a few weeks to expose the vulnerability and deep-seated fragility of our economic and political systems. One of the areas in which we are least prepared for the many complex challenges surrounding us is in our relationship to food. The UK, for instance, imports almost half the food it consumes, and the home-grown stuff is for the most part reliant on migrant workers from eastern Europe. If labour shortages were already a source of anxiety before coronavirus, the prospect that we might run out of food is now very real indeed. On the consumption side, we will remember the bizarre week of empty shelves when rice and pasta were nowhere to be found. Nothing captures our dysfunctional relationship to food as clearly as the phenomenon of panic-buying, where every one of us is made to feel as if we must desperately fend for ourselves.
A growing trend in the food system is challenging this notion and showing how different our relationship to food could be. Community-supported agriculture (CSA), is an alternative approach based on the core idea that food is social: food expresses how much we rely on each other and on our environment, and it is up to us to make that relationship as resilient and sustainable as possible. CSAs can be social enterprises, member co-operatives, or non-profit organisations, and they often rely on volunteers for growing and distributing their produce. The different approach taken by CSAs is clear from the language that they use: CSAs don't cater to consumers, they have members, and growers and members take part together in the good times and the bad. As the lockdown came into force in the UK, CSAs found themselves having to adapt to new rules and find different ways of working together. In a happy exception to the rule, they have been swift to adapt.