I was reading about World War II rationing in the UK the other day. I have made food using ration recipes before and have been rather impressed. But just how restrictive was rationing and how did people manage? More so, how does it compare to today and as a comparison – to my own financial and calorific rationing.
In 1939 the UK only produced about 30% of its food on home turf (we now aim for farmers to produce 50% of what is sold in the shops), hence the need for rationing. We were caught out and possibly will be again. Germany targeted British industry, ports and industrial zones in an attempt to starve the country into submission. Rationing during the war meant a fair portion for everyone regardless of class or financial status although as a result the black market in goods rocketed (one of my relatives for done for selling bacon and champagne on the black market!). I guess that’s survival and it’s no surprise that people found ways to make an extra bob or two.
Here’s the standard ration for an adult per week:
Based on basic modern equivilents, I’ve worked out that the above ration equals roughly 824 calories per day just for these items, though this wasn’t entirely it. Many things were not on ration if you could get them in the shops though shelves were often bare and everything you would get in a store worked on a points system so you couldn’t stock pile. In addition to this many workers and school children got meals at canteens or extra rations depending on their jobs.
The way around the ration at home problem was to grow your own and be ingenius with recipes. Many people had gardens and turned them into allotments, even in densely populated cities, to grow their own salad and root vegetables. I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘Dig for Victory’. Keeping a few chickens became common as a way to increase the egg ration. In the country, access to additional fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy meant that rations weren’t so difficult to bear. So it really wasn’t all that bad if you knew how to play the game and Brits are a resourceful bunch when pushed to it.
Here’s a great video from YouTube to make things clearer:
Some of the recipes people used to make what they had go a little further were creative if not always palatable but I don’t believe the WWII diet was a poor one by any stretch of the imagination. Baking at home was common so bread, cake and other carb heavy foods were often available to boost the diet if you could get the ingredients.
Even so, bear in mind that people had much more physically active lives then. Women at home were constantly busy maintaining the home without the benefit of conveniences that we’re used to such as washing machines and hoovers. The food shop was a daily errand as fridge freezers were unheard of.
Men often had more physical jobs too and almost noone owned a car so getting about was more often done on foot or by bus or tram. Most people could easy burn this calorie ration each day. I suppose people were fitter than they used to be. People might say life was harder then, but I’d be inclined to suggest their lives were healthier, more resourceful and more active than what we experience today.
Like me, the rationing experience made people more careful with food and money. Waste not, want not. And that’s not a bad ethic at all. There’s far too much unnecessary food waste in the country due to greed and profits.
I’m not the only one to try to match my own dieting experiences with the wartime ration diet. In fact, this blogger is doing things exactly the same way as me with ‘The 1940s Experiment’. I’m going to be trying a few of these recipes when the budget allows, to keep me within the calorie range as well as the financial one.