Marks & Spencer grouse could be a game-changer when it comes to seasonal eating

The start of the football season may have got progressively earlier, but this signal of autumn's approach has not moved
  • @Simon_Kelner

Where do your avocados come from? Sainsbury's, of course. No, silly, where do they come from? The proper answer to the question will most likely be Israel, or South Africa or Brazil. Our green beans come to our supermarket shelves from Kenya, our tomatoes from the Canary Islands. We are so used to eating what we want, when we want it that the concept of seasonal food in Britain is as quaint as bespoke tailoring.

Asparagus in December? Apples all year round? Spring onions when it's not spring?  No problem, sir. Quite apart from the environmental impact of flying in a mangetout all the way from Nairobi, we have lost something from the rhythm of our lives through a daily menu that pays very little heed to the calendar. If we consider what we eat, there is something reassuring about marking the passage of the year by what food is in season.

The first home-grown asparagus of the year is a sign that summer is on its way. Dedicated foodies feel the same about gulls' eggs. And the start of the grouse season on August 12 - the Glorious Twelfth, as enshrined in the Game Act of 1831 - signals the approach of autumn. The start of the football season may have got progressively earlier, but this date has not moved. And neither is it a trumped-up marketing ploy: remember the fuss that we used to make about the release of Beaujolais Nouveau (until, that is, we discovered that it was actually rather unpleasant).

No, the start of the grouse season is an important fixture in the country calendar - it's September 1 for other game, and October 1 for pheasant - and it still creates a genuine excitement among those who care about home-reared produce. And grouse is no longer an exclusive item, out of the reach of supermarket shoppers and purely for the delectation of the upper classes. It may not be to everyone's taste - the meat's dark and bloody, and the flavour is intense and gamey - but it's healthy, sustainable and now available for the first time at Marks and Spencer. At a tenner for an oven-ready bird, it doesn't go cheap (sorry: couldn't resist it) but M & S are responding to a greater demand among their customers for game. Sales of venison have increased dramatically in the past few years, and Waitrose tell of a growing market for wood pigeon.

Pheasant, too, is an acquired taste, and I think it's a shame more people haven't acquired it. Not only is it free range and low in fat, it's also cheap. The popularity of shooting - particularly among some foreign visitors, who pay a lot of money to pretend to be an English squire for a day - means that in many parts of the country there is a substantial surfeit of pheasants. Sometimes, they are simply buried in a pit. If only Jamie would launch a campaign to get people eating more game, or Nigella did a pheasant recipe. That would be, if you like, a game changer. And we'd be more connected, through our food, to the seasons. I know it doesn't feel like it, but winter's on the way.