Eating In during the Second World War
The Second World War proved an ideal opportunity to improve the nation's diet. With widening knowledge about nutrition and a healthy diet, Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, was aware the war could cause malnutrition.
As early as 1937, plans to introduce rationing were being developed. The amount of imported food decreased. Some dried or tinned food reached Britain from abroad, but at irregular intervals. Bread and potatoes formed a large part of every meal. An adult's weekly allowance was approximately 500 grams of meat (including offal and sausages), 60g of butter, 60g of cooking fat, 125g of vitamin-enriched margarine, 90g of cheese and one egg. Tea, sugar, sweets, biscuits and chocolate were also rationed. Milk was considered very important. An allocation scheme ensured that pregnant women and children received their essential requirement. Dried milk and eggs were used as supplements to fresh ingredients. Fish and game were not rationed.
In addition to ration coupons, 'points' were issued for tinned and imported food. These could be spent as people wished, for example on one tin of sardines worth six points, or two tins of fruit each worth three points. This discouraged hoarding, and gave people some choice.
The government strongly encouraged the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. A large propaganda campaign was launched that included the slogan, 'Dig for Victory'. In London, every park, front garden and patch of land was turned into an allotment, many of which still survive.
In London and other cities, there was much less choice than there was for those living in the country. In rural areas, there was always a chance of catching a hare, pheasant, rabbit or trout; there were rowans, blackberries and mushrooms to pick and more room to grow a variety of vegetables.
The government gave much advice on food and eating during the war. Adverts, broadcasts and music hall sketches all helped people to accept rationing and shortages.
Many recipe books were published, for example, A Kitchen Goes to War (1940) to which famous people contributed recipes. However, it was written too early to take rationing into account, and ingredients such as sugar, eggs, meat and dried fruit are required in abundance. The North Middlesex Gas Company published a more helpful booklet later in the same year, warning that some food would be rationed and giving helpful advice.
By 1941, the food shortages had made things very difficult, and the phrase, 'The Kitchen Front' came into use. It encouraged housewives to feel they were contributing to the war effort by cooking wisely and not wasting food.
Dishes such as Woolton Pie (cooked vegetables covered with cheese pastry), lentil roast and carrot pudding were created. Most people were sceptical, and there were few conversions to vegetarianism during the Second World War. Some unusual food products were also imported to Britain, such as whale meat.
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