Peas in our time

Peas in our time

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You may have noticed a lack of frozen peas in the shops of late. I certainly have but had thought nothing of it until someone mentioned it on a radio talk show. Once that happens all hell breaks loose and panic buying ensues.

There had been a couple of bags of frozen petit pois on the shelf at Woollies on the day before this all became public knowledge but the day after….zilch. Northern suburbs housewives in impossibly large SUV’s were seen making raids on supermarkets and buying up all the available frozen peas. I saw a group of women hunting as a pack in Pick n Pay. They had fourteen bags of frozen peas which represented the supermarket’s entire stock. I asked them if they were particularly fond of peas or were planning to make a lot of pea soup. They told me that they actually didn’t like peas at all but had heard on the radio that there was a country wide frozen pea shortage and had decided to corner the market with a few to selling at a colossal profit as the market was squeezed . They told me that they had visited their first supermarket on the East Rand at eight that morning and still had four to go. But word had got out and another rival gang of housewives were also driving around the Spars buying up all the stocks of frozen peas. Yet another gang had got really clever and were buying up the mixed bags of sweet corn and peas and promising their domestic workers a share of future pea profits to separate the sweet corn kernels from the peas.

The reason for the shortage goes back to the great pea blight earlier this year. It never made front page news because the global financial crisis tended to edge it off the page. But it had made the third page of the well known trade magazine Pea Buyers Monthly and the South African Pea Marketing Board had been a bit cagey about journalists asking awkward questions. So now the story is out and the frozen pea shortage scandal is the new Eskom. The limited stocks of peas have been bought up and hoarded in deep freezes all over the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and clandestine calls have been made to the buyers of the large supermarket chains offering them a stock of frozen peas, no questions asked, at prices so inflated that they make Eskom’s modest demand for three year’s of 45% electricity cost increases look reasonable. Thus far, nobody has given in and the retailers are hoping to secure supplies from shady international pea dealers which will leave the pea bulls with lots of peas but no extraordinary profits to show. One American bank has even offered to “securitise” the large stocks of frozen peas to help with cash flow problems.

Meanwhile, you would think the obvious solution is to pop along to your garden centre and buy pea seeds to plant. But there are none because there were no baby peas born during the great blight. If you’re lucky someone from Nigeria will sidle up to you at the garden centre and slip a paper envelope into your pocket full of highly illegal foreign pea seeds but you need to hand over a roll of bank notes in exchange. Things have become so bad that we have planted runner beans instead this year.

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