Will the UK diet be a dreary affair post-Brexit?

If trade routes really were to shut down, a hypothetical UK diet would leave a lot to be desired

Homemade avocado smash toast topped with lemon and chili flakes.

No more avocado toast or banana smoothies, and forget about shaving fresh Parmesan on your pasta. Instead, get used to milk at every meal, bread for days, lamb chops, and peas. Lots and lots of peas.

Home-grown meals more akin to an industrial-age diet are what Britons could be eating if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal that sets up basic trading relations with other countries, and if goods are held up at ports. The UK relies heavily on imports and has been such a hotbed of agricultural trade for centuries that it's easy to forget what the British palate would look like if the UK's food trade with the rest of the world were to hypothetically grind to a halt.

It's still hard to predict what could happen, but the risk of a no-deal exit has increased as prime minister Theresa May tries to get Parliament to approve her deal amid a standoff with the EU before next week's deadline. While it's highly unlikely that food imports would completely cease if the UK crashed out of the bloc without a deal, grocery stores and farmers have been preparing for the worst. In the unexpected event that the UK would have to feed itself: There'd at least be plenty of meat and potatoes, but forget "five-a-day" fruit and vegetables. And with months until UK harvests, traditional Sunday roast dinners would be light on the trimmings for a while.

"We'll have food, but the supply chains and logistics would need to handle a major change," said Sue Pritchard, director at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission at the Royal Society of Arts. "Maybe we'll need to revive the British tradition of a good meat and three veg roast!"


The nation produces about 60 per cent of its own food, so a lot of popular products would, hypothetically, be unavailable. We took a look at what supermarket shelves would look like in a world without trade.

A gallon per person

Brits would be swimming in milk. UK cows produce enough for about a gallon per person each week, providing plenty for breakfast cereal or dessert trifles. Egg supplies are also largely domestic.

But other familiar products could disappear, such as Irish butter or cheddar. Farmers in Northern Ireland wouldn't be able to send milk across the border for processing, and cheese fans should bid farewell to French brie and Italian Parmesan.

Tomatoes for special occasions

There’d be fewer greens, and what remains will be more vulnerable to seasonal harvests. Fresh produce would be among the most affected in a world without imports, as the UK ships in most of its fruit and about half its vegetables. There’d be about four pounds of strawberries and half a pound of raspberries a year from British farms, with nary a banana. Avocado toast is off the menu, too.

The country produces plenty of peas (its best-selling veggie), and carrots and beets are available most months. Broccoli would be on the shelves for just half the year. Save the tomatoes for special occasions: UK farmers produce only a fifth of the tomatoes sold in the country throughout the year, and up to a half in the summer, according to the British Tomato Grower’s Association.

A mutton resurgence?

It’s lamb chops aplenty in Britain, one of the largest exporters of the meat. The country also produces about 50 pounds of chicken and 30 pounds each of beef and pork annually per person, though that includes some less-appetizing cuts currently sold abroad.

If overseas trade were to stop, there could be a shortage of popular legs and loins but extra livers on sale. Livestock would also see their diets change as imported corn and soybeans disappear from feed mixes.

Carb up

There shouldn’t be much of a shortage of bread because enough wheat is grown for the bulk of UK flour production. The grain has been grown in the country for thousands of years and ranks as the largest arable crop by area.

It’s not all good news for carb lovers though. Products with firmer dough, such as pizza crusts, use high-protein wheat varieties that typically thrive in other climates. So consumers may have to swap a slice for an extra sandwich to get their fix of gluten.

A rare catch

Lobster and chips? The cod that's battered here often comes from Norway and Iceland - 90 per cent of it was imported in 2015 - while British fishermen sell the bulk of their fresh shellfish to the continent. That could mean an abundance of crab, lobster and prawns for UK consumers.

And if they want a side of chips, they’re in luck. Britain’s penchant for potatoes would largely be secure because the country produces about three-quarters of its own supply, though imports some processed products.

The new tea: whisky and beer

Pile-ups at ports of entry could also hamper supplies from non-EU nations, so the UK may need to find an alternative to the afternoon cuppa. Britain's tea habit has always been fed by imports, originally fuelled by shipments from the East India Company that started centuries ago. Unsurprisingly, grinds for its morning coffee isn't homegrown either, and many wine glasses would sit unused without overseas supply. The UK imported 480 million bottles of wine from the EU in 2017, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association industry group.

It's not all bad news - local pubs would still be able to serve up a stiff drink. About 20 million casks of whisky are currently maturing in Scotland, and the country could always tap its barley fields to brew beer. – Bloomberg