Our new heroes are food producers and deliverers, says TIM NEWARK

People with shopping carts wait in line

Supermarkets are adapting to keep up with the demand during this crisis (Image: Getty)

Wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill knew that a nation cannot fight with empty stomachs and prioritised food supply as much as ammunition and weapons. “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war,” he said, “was the U-boat peril,” knowing that could cut off essential supplies to the UK.

In the new TV costume drama Belgravia, it was interesting to see the Duke of Wellington not only assemble his generals on the eve of the battle of Waterloo but also his “victualler” who he nicknamed the “magician” for finding all the supplies his army needed.

Supermarkets have always been a miracle of the modern world, providing an enormous variety of fresh and preserved food, more than at any time in previous history.

Andy Warhol celebrated this back in 1964 in his “America Supermarket” installation in which he reproduced famous brands as artworks.

But the true miracle is not so much the range of food as the constant resupply of depleted shelves.

Just as toilet rolls disappear one day, so they arrive the next.

Panic buying is to be decried but it is also a natural response to any perceived threat and yet supermarkets have calmly managed to restock as promptly as possible.

Empty supermarket shelves

The true miracle is not so much the range of food as the constant resupply of depleted shelves (Image: Getty)

The government quite rightly suspended delivery time restrictions in city centres so that van drivers can work at all hours of the night to bring in new waves of commodities.

The big stores must all be commended for making special opening times available exclusively to the elderly and NHS workers.

If this crisis continues it might be a sensible idea to have separate stores just for vulnerable people and their carers that are open at all times, day and night.

As many business are being forced to lay off workers, it is good to see that supermarkets are stepping up recruitment, especially keen to employ thousands of staff from the devastated catering sector.

Morrisons are hiring 3,500 new staff to meet the soaring demand for home deliveries by making more slots available. 

That includes 2,500 more packers and drivers.

Poster at Lidl supermarket

While many companies lay off workers, it is good to see that supermarkets are stepping up recruitment (Image: Getty)

Supermarket staff are frequently working longer hours and taking on more shifts to make sure the shelves are filled.

It is impressive to see smaller businesses threatened by the closing down of the high street responding by offering new services.

A bakery café near to me is no longer serving sit down breakfasts but they are selling takeaway produce including eggs from local farms they use for making cakes.

Our farmers’ market has now gone online so their cheese, meat and vegetables can be delivered directly to the doorstep.

Contactless payment is now the preferred currency everywhere.

Hopefully this is an emergency measure that will not endure after the pandemic has passed as it is only bad news for older generations.

Delivery rider wears a mask

Takeaway food delivery networks are also adapting quickly (Image: Getty)

Takeaway food delivery networks are also adapting quickly to the new environment.

Just Eat has announced it is cutting its commission on all collections to help restaurants survive while offering a welcome discount to NHS workers.

My busy pharmacist was delighted to be offered a free Domino’s pizza.

Food manufacturers are on the frontline too.

Pladis in north-west London is the biggest biscuit factory in Western Europe, making some of our favourite tea-time snacks, including Hobnobs and Digestives.

They’ve stepped up their production line so 20 percent more biscuits are leaving the factory.

Shifts have been staggered to allow safe social distancing in busy work spaces.

Farmers, however, are facing an imminent crisis with a lack of seasonal labour to pick ripening fruit.

Just as Land Girls were dispatched to help with farm work in both world wars, so there is a need for a new force of young men and women to play their part in assisting farmers at this vital time of the year.

Perhaps some of those young people who’ve lost part-time jobs in pubs and bars could be redirected towards nearby farms.

One of the few silver linings to be generated out of this dire period is to realise how lucky we are to live in a country so well provided with good quality food.

It is only in a crisis that we fully appreciate the role that food manufacturers, suppliers and shops play in our everyday lives. It is a rich, complex network that we will depend on even more over the next few weeks.

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