I was feeling a little reflective over the weekend, what with the big birthday and all that. 1954; not only the year I landed on this planet, but also the year that food rationing in post war Britain finally ended. 60 years later (shhh... don't tell anyone) with the myriad of food related illness and problems that are in the news every day, I wonder whether we're any better off now than then?
Post WW2 Rationing
Although World War 2 finally ended in May 1945, it was a further 9 years before rationing of food was no longer required. 60% of food was imported and with restrictions on imports, Britons had to look to other places for their food. However, between growing vegetables in back gardens or allotments, foraging from the beaches and woodlands and catching rabbits and pigeons, families were generally adequately fed good healthy food.
The Ministry of Food (not to be confused with Jamie's more modern take) developed a strategy to help families cope with the shortage of food and to remain strong, healthy and motivated. Advice given through the Eating for Victory and Make, Do and Mend pamphlets and posters produced between 1939 - 1954, is said to have produced the healthiest generation before or since.
So what initiatives promoted by MOF would I advocate now?
"Grow Your Own"
Because of the shortage of fresh supplies, the advice from MOF was to Grow Your Own vegetables. Doctor Carrot and Potato Pete were introduced as comic characters to encourage children to keep well by eating up the veggies that were grown.
Vegetables (labelled protective foods) are at their most nutritious when prepared and eaten as soon as possible after being dug up or picked and so the nutritional information still holds true for vegetables 60 years on. Intense farming methods, poor eating habits, the threat of GM crops, climate change and the rising cost of both fresh and organic produce are all very good reasons for growing your own vegetables in 2014. Mintel research found that 1 in 5 British consumers now grow their own fruit and vegetables and the UK Allotment waiting list has grown 20% since 2010.
The Food Growing in Schools Taskforce led by Garden Organic has been established as a response to increasing concerns about the health and well-being of children and young people. I understand that not everyone has the land, the time or the inclination to Grow Your Own, but the post WW2 sentiments are still the same: make sure to provide at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day to everyone under your care.
In July 1939, the MOF issued a clear message regarding food waste and frugality:
'These are the plans for our national housekeeping in wartime. Like all plans for our civil defence they need your help. In wartime, there would be no food to waste, but with your care and co-operation we shall have enough'.
Housewives were encouraged to be frugal at all times, with the help of wartime recipes that were circulated like carrot and seville orange marmalade, carrot jam and Woolton Pie, the ultimate leftover pie so named, after the then Minister of Food, Lord Woolton. Members of the family were encouraged to eat every morsel on the plate and to be realistic about how much they could eat at each meal. The campaign was a success, because there was so little food available, the information was given in a positive mode and households willingly co operated.
Today, food waste in homes is a huge issue and according to the recycling company WRAP, the average UK household throws away the equivalent of six meals every week, costing nearly £60 a month to the average family. Almost half of this food doesn't even make it onto our dinner plates and goes directly into the bin. The top three foods that Britons are throwing away uneaten include everyday essentials: bread, potatoes and milk; foods that were rationed 60 years ago. Indeed Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London's City University, said as far back as 2008 "There has been 60 years of silence on this issue, we haven't had any sort of overview of food policy since the end of the Second World War."
During the WW2 rationing period, women become very inventive with the ingredients they had available, taking good advice from government officials. The British Government was heavily influenced by Home Economists, the most prolific one being the food writer, recipe developer and cookery book author, Marguerite Patten.
This following piece of advice issued about food 60 years ago hold strong today; the only major change is that the advice is offered equally to men and women.
- Buy it with thought
- Cook it with care
- Use less wheat and meat
- Buy local food
- Serve just enough
- Use what is left
It seems that the rationing days had some things right. Have you got a Food Policy at home? You could do worse than take the advice from the Ministry of Food and their team of home economists.