Here's a contradiction: in a year when we are tightening our purses, the rush to buy British food – often mistakenly perceived as expensive – is greater than ever.
Despite the tricky economic climate, this year's British Food Fortnight, the eighth annual national celebration of our national produce that runs from 19 September to 4 October, is the biggest yet. Wembley Stadium, Grey Gables Hotel (of The Archers fame), the Cabinet Office, John Lewis, the BBC and the National Trust are just a few of the famous establishments taking part.
People are thinking more carefully about the sustainability of the food chain, and retailers and caterers know they need to respond to this. Consumers want value for money. But value, in the case of food, has never been just about price; it is about taste, freshness and quality.
The best guarantee of these values is British food, produced to the highest standards in the world. The fact that nearly every major supermarket and catering organisation is participating says it all. British food really is flavour of the moment.
Savvy marketers have responded to this, and patriotic fervour has gripped the major brands.
The advertising slogan of the moment is, without doubt, "100 per cent British". Ginsters' new pork pie range highlights its use of 100 per cent British pork; Müller boasts that 90 per cent of its milk comes from within 30 miles of its Shropshire dairy; McDonald's lorries pound the motorways carrying the slogan: "Our beef is reared on British and Irish farms". Even Carling's ads boast about 100 per cent British barley.
And look at what the major retailers are doing during British Food Fortnight: Morrisons is hosting Best of British activities in all its stores; Asda has special offers on 100 local lines; Tesco has British promotions on its counters and fresh produce, plus tastings of locally sourced products; and Sainsbury's is launching "British Classic ready meals" and a British autumn-roasts campaign, and reports that 2009 has been its best year selling British produce.
Celebrities are also queuing up to be champions of local food. Stephen Fry and Amanda Holden have become patrons of the Norfolk Food Festival; Alex James's creamy blue cheese, named Blue Monday after the New Order song, is now on sale in Sainsbury's; and Elizabeth Hurley's sausages are for sale in Cirencester farmers' market.
Yet despite food festivals galore, celebrity endorsements, thousands of pages dedicated to food in newspapers and magazines, and the new pro-British approach by retailers, British food still has a long way to go. Children munch on crisps for breakfast, fresh fruit and veg is inaccessible in many deprived areas, country- of-origin labelling is confusing – sometimes even dishonest – and our producer organisations are bound by EU regulations preventing them from extolling the benefits of buying British.
When I founded British Food Fortnight in 2002, I quipped that the aim was to make us more like the French and Italians, whose love of their national food is ingrained in their consciousness. Are we there yet? No, but we've come a long way.
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