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When the UK joined the Common Market in1974, the country’s restaurants had a total of 26 Michelin stars, the industrystandard restaurant rating, in Britain. In 2019 there are 163, including fiverestaurants with three stars – the highest honour awarded. Is this acoincidence or has membership of the European Union enabled the development ofthe UK’s vibrant contemporary food scene?



Despite what John Cleese might think, foodculture in the UK is booming – chefs are becoming superstars and prime-time TV slots are full ofcookery programmes, which are exported all over the world. What the quality ofrestaurants and the global profiles of its top chefs suggests about the UK in2019 is that it is not only a nation of foodies – but that the country hasbecome immersed into the food and drink culture of Europe.

不管John Cleese(约翰·克里斯)怎么想,英国的饮食文化正在繁荣发展,大厨们成了超级明星,黄金时段的电视节目充斥着出口到全世界的烹饪节目。餐厅的品质加上其全球瞩目的顶级大厨表明的是:2019年的英国不仅是一个吃货之国,而且这个国家已经渐渐沉浸于欧洲的饮食文化了。

European food and ingredients have becomestaple food choices for the British. The use of ingredients such as garlic,peppers, avocados, Parmesan cheese and all those other European ingredientsthat are now taken for granted are relatively new and were still rare in the1990s. When I was growing up in rural Devon in the 1970s, olive oil was onlyreally readily available in chemists as a cure for earache – now it is found inmost food cupboards. And wine drinking has permeated through all socialclasses.


Spanish delicatessen in London’s Borough Market. Paolo Paradiso via Shutterstock


So if Britain’s food is embedded inEuropean culture, what will the impact of Brexit have on the restaurantindustry in the UK? In order to answer this it’s necessary to identify howBritain’s ties to the EU have directly impacted upon UK restaurants.


Free movement of chefs


What this demonstrates is that EU workersare key to the continued success of the UK restaurant industry. They are oftenportrayed as a source of cheap labour, but in fact are skilled, well-educatedindividuals who make a positive contribution to the sector. Even though many ofthe workers are highly skilled, wages remain low – so any move to place anincome threshold of £30,000 to earn a visa will exclude the majority of EUhospitality workers. But without the labour provided by EU immigrants it isdifficult to see how the sector can continue to thrive.


Free movement of ingredients


Great chefs rely on great ingredients, andseamless trade ensures that food arrives in Britain in the freshest possible state.Food items such as strawberries, peppers or chillies are delivered tosupermarkets and restaurants throughout the year. Britain imports a huge amountof fresh produce from the EU – in fact, in terms of food security, through alack of investment in farming over the past two or three decades, the UK is notand cannot be self-sufficient.


The EU ensures that the UK can both importand export foodstuffs in an efficient manner, as there are no delays caused bycustom checks or embargoes on products. Unless the UK remains part of thecustoms union, it is difficult to see how the cuisine to which they have becomeaccustomed to can continue to enter the supply chain without disruption.


Back to cheap sausages?


The vibrant food culture in the UK dependson the EU to provide innovation, influence, skilled labour and products. This isreflected all the way from the shelves of Aldi and Lidl to the five UKthree-star Michelin restaurants. If I am right in believing food and cuisine tobe an expression of culture, then Britons are European. As the writer andsocial commentator Robin Leach stated before his death in 2018:



Whoever would have guessed that in the landof cheap sausages and mashed potatoes there could be such a change which wouldactually bring the French from Paris every weekend to invade Britain en masseto eat great food and drink great wine.


Perhaps Brexit will have a positive impacton British food culture and protect the future and integrity of the greatBritish chip rather than being replaced by the insidious pommes frite. It willbe interesting to see in the coming decade whether the number ofMichelin-starred restaurants increases further. I suspect it won’t.