What does Brexit mean for the food industry? 

I am not the only person or indeed the first person to express my hurt, anger and disbelief at the results of last weeks referendum and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Whether it’s my generation feeling betrayed by an older generation who had the freedom of the EU and didn’t use it as much as we do and will or whether it’s frustration at the expressions of regret from leave voters- oh I didn’t think my vote would count or I didn’t realise the pound would plummet so dramatically- the Internet and the world is full of reverberations of the result. We are looking for the loophole, looking for the way out of what we are committed to. There may be a petition out there calling for another referendum but I fear the damage is done. We’ve already told the EU we don’t want to belong. In the school playground we’ve already told the other kids we’re better than them and we don’t need them. Even if by some miracle this petition pulls off and we stay, Europe knows we didn’t want them. Whilst diplomacy shouldn’t fall to playground bitchiness the people of Europe won’t forget. They’re only human. We’ve lost a liberal, middle right wing prime minister for an unelected and potentially far right leader further widening the gap between the two major political parties and splitting the country into a worrying divide. We might lose Scotland, northern island and even London is jokingly threatening to declare independence. 

Personally I’ve gone through the five stages of grief. I thought it was a bad dream when I woke up on Friday, I didn’t believe it. Then I was angry, I stewed for 2 hours on a bus to London muttering expletives under my breath, I arrived in London googling the loophole, signing the petition trying to bargain my way out. And yesterday evening? Well I got drunk and cried. But now I’m at a stage of acceptance. We’ve done it, we’ve put a message out there that we still think we’re the colonial powerhouse of the 19th century, racist, right wing and ridiculous. How else would a man such as Farage, a self reinstated leader of a party gaining a worrying amount followers who isn’t even an MP be listened to? ( anyone noticed as an MEP he’s just voted himself out of the job?) the Trump of England he’s just asked for a more lax approach to gun control. 

But the world has moved on from the 19th century. Technology and communication has created a more fluid and developed world. My generation want to travel, have a cosmopolitan workplace, city, country…. But why does it matter so much to me particularly? I graduated from cookery school yesterday. I am trying to get a job in food and wine a subject I am passionate about but I’m starting to worry the world I want to enter is about to crumble before I can even latch on.

 Has anyone noticed we are an island. We grow a fair amount of fruit and veg, a few lambs here and there – we could probably survive, we won’t starve. But again the world and what we expect to eat has changed. We’ve realised that food is exciting, it’s not just fuel. Food porn is a thing! That avocado you’re smashing onto your spelt loaf is in fact shipped in from Spain. Interesting fact, England simply isn’t hot enough to grow avocados, maybe global warming will change that in 50 years times until then… I know that we won’t still be able to trade with European countries but I can promise you it’s going to get a damn site more expensive. Don’t get me started on the price of wine. You know what happens when things get too expensive? People buy it less and the companies no longer have the money to employ the hotshot young graduate, there’s no point training them up for the future of the company because you don’t even know if there will be one. Rowan Gormley of majestic wine warned us about this before the vote and I hoped the 6th largest wine drinking country in the world might listen to him. 

With the pound in free fall we all know what first happens in a recession. People stop spending money on restaurants, wine bars, regular nights out. At a point where more restaurants are folding within the first year year of opening than breaking even, it can only get worse. But what is going to impact the restaurant industry more than the lack of customers is the loss of a work force. It has been proved time and time again that British people don’t want to be waiters. They don’t want to clean. They don’t want to fold tablecloths or chop vegetables for hours on end. In Germany becoming a waiter is a craft, an art that millions aspire to every year and train painstakingly to become the best at it. In England it’s a gap year job, something to fill the gap before ‘real work’ starts. An overwhelming majority of staff in hotels, restaurants and bars are European immigrants. And no it’s not because they’re taking our jobs, it’s because we didn’t want those jobs. Whether it’s the local wetherspoons where a friendly Italian bartender is serving you your pint and there’s still a ‘staff needed’ poster in the window or the high end Michelin restaurant where the sommelier is a smooth talking French gent. Want to know why he got the job? Because frankly he’s better at it. He trained for years, crafting the art because where he’s from a waiter is the pinnacle of a career not the start.

I’m being dramatic I know. And I know the markets will stabilise and trade hasn’t completely gone down the drain. But in an industry that was heading towards an increasingly cosmopolitan and vibrant evolution I think we might back track. British cuisine has evolved to include staples of curries, pasta and fine wines. I know we’re not going to lose that but we’ve told the rest of the world we care more about ourselves than moving to a diverse multi cultural future. It’s not the result it’s the statement we’ve made. But I’m not going to rant any more. As I said I’m at a point of acceptance. The majority has spoken and we can’t ignore the marginalised British. I can just hope that they realise how much we’ve gained from a more fluid map of the world and how much we’ve moved on from the 19th century. Even if it’s in a tiny way. Noticing that the Spag Bol we’re rustling up for dinner was a result of an Italian loving, River cottage creating lady in the 1980s. Again I know that this would’ve happened EU or not. But ultimately it’s not abut the EU. It’s about sending a message to the world that we’re open to diversity and diplomacy. I’ll raise a glass of wine to uniting the two British camps first, it’s a s start. 

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