By 2050, all of our supermarket staples could disappear. Image: Ian photo/Vindhi De Silva
Climate change is affecting everyone, everywhere. From severe floods and tropical storms to droughts and heatwaves, extreme weather is happening all over the world and the consequences are stark.
Not only do these extreme weather events cause damage to property and infrastructure, as well as loss of life, there is something else being impacted that many people are only now having to consider: groceries.
We had become used to walking into a supermarket and seeing products from all over the world, albeit imported at huge cost to the planet, but available year-round.
But these shortages are likely to become more common in the near future. And not enough is being done to stop it.
That is why the Fairtrade Foundation have organised a pop-up shop in Shoreditch, called the Endangered Aisle. The charity’s goal is to highlight what a supermarket might look like in 2050, if climate change goes unchecked and people don’t change their habits.
The picture painted by the Endangered Aisle is undeniably bleak: the shelves are barren and the food we love and in some cases need to survive won’t be available anywhere.
The charity warns that products that require growing, including bananas, cocoa, coffee, tea, and nuts, are going to disappear within our lifetimes if people do not take further steps to combat adverse weather induced by climate change.
Consumer research commissioned by Fairtrade and conducted by 3Gem Research & Insights found 60 per cent of British people would be “devastated, annoyed, or upset” if chocolate was no longer available in the UK, while 54 per cent said they felt the same about losing coffee or bananas.
Whether it is fresh, canned, or frozen, almost everything you buy will be at risk of being devastated by the climate crisis.
People are already getting used to walking into the supermarket and seeing half-empty shelves due to supply chain issues caused by Brexit and Covid-19 in recent years. And in the last month supermarkets have found it hard to get produce simply because there isn’t enough supply.
The government says it is largely due to bad weather in Europe and Africa, while high electricity prices are impacting produce grown in greenhouses in the UK and in Europe.
In the winter, the UK usually imports 95 per cent of its tomatoes and 90 per cent of its lettuces from Spain and North Africa, according to the British Retail Consortium.
But areas in Southern Spain have had unusually cold weather while produce in Morocco has been impacted by flooding.
“Dramatic climate change events have tripled in recent years so this has been going on for sometime. But, we are able to make changes now. We can act now before we see that bleak future that is on display at the Endangered Aisle,” Jackie Marshall, head of brand and marketing at Fairtrade Foundation told The Big Issue.
Not everyone is aware of the scale of the problem, Marshall said, citing statistics from Fairtrade that show only 63 per cent of people were aware climate change could affect their weekly shop, while only 38 per cent of people are making changes to limit their impact on the planet.
She said: “We don’t believe that it has to be the case that we will have to learn to live without certain products. The programmes that we have in place are already making a difference, and people can contribute to that to safeguard their supermarket staples.
“By buying Fairtrade products, you know that the farmers working on those products have training and special funds that they can put into programs to tackle climate change.”
“We are able to implement projects to help producers to adapt climate change, such as implementation of sustainable agriculture systems and strategies to manage soil and prevent erosion,” Faith Muthoni from Fairtrade Africa told The Big Issue.
Fairtrade is most often associated with ethical labour practices and ensuring that farmers are paid fairly for their work, but Marshall said the charity is also working in the field of climate change.
“The Fairtrade Foundation has a major focus on the climate,” Muthoni added, explaining that the 1.3 million farmers the charity works with are “taught how to assess environmental risk and to prepare action plans and enable a shift to sustainable agriculture and climate-focused systems” using the money received from the sale of Fairtrade products.
In addition to spreading awareness of the potential effects of climate change on our supermarket staples, the Endangered Aisle is aiming to show people that there are a lot of Fairtrade products out there – more than people know.
Once you get past the barren shelves, which are designed to shock people as they walk in and are confronted by the impact of the climate crisis, there are a number of products, from wine and flowers to lip balm and t-shirts as well as coffee and chocolate, that have the Fairtrade logo printed on them.
Marshall stressed that the Endangered Aisle will enable people to learn more about Fairtrade, and dispel the misconception that Fairtrade products are not freely available or are more expensive than non-Fairtrade products.
She said: “Fair trade is sold in the likes of Asda, Lidl, Aldi, and even Greggs. We have opportunities for every kind of budget and there are Fair Trade products for everyone.”
This is important during a cost of living crisis, especially as Fairtrade consumer research found that 43 per cent of people said that their energy costs are a bigger concern than climate change.
“Even with a cost of living crisis, people can make that change to buy Fairtrade and protect the future of our planet,” Marshall added.
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.