We often hear on television that as a country the United Kingdom faces the threat of unhealthy eating and diet and all the associated health risks, indeed one TV presenter went as far as to claim that the average diet today is less healthy than at the height of World War Two! This got me thinking about food, rationing and war.
In World War One and despite an allied blockade of the North Sea the German Navy was successful in deploying its U-boats, or submarines. Their main aim was to attack and sink ships carrying military equipment, or food, to the United Kingdom. By 1918 food was fast becoming the most important commodity, as the United Kingdom had just six weeks of food left! With this stark fact, there was no option other than to ration food supplies. So in World War One food rationing started in 1918, almost as the war ended, with sugar and butter remaining rationed until 1920.
After the start of World War Two, the first product to be rationed was petrol, but food rationing followed in January 1940 as the stable diet of bacon, butter and sugar was placed on ration. This was soon followed by all meats, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and canned fruits.
The majority of rationed food stuffs were controlled by weight, the exception to this was meat which was rationed by price, conversely one of the few foods not rationed was fish, which cased the price of fish to soar.
Strangely restaurants were initially exempt from any food rationing, allowing the wealthy and well-heeled to supplement their ‘issued’ food rations by eating out at restaurants on a regular basis. Needless to say, this was resented by the great majority and a new Restaurant Rationing Regulation was introduced.
The rules stated that no meal could cost more than five shillings (25p) and that no meal could have more than three courses, with fish and meat not being served at the same sitting; so by introducing a ‘restricted cost’ rationing was introduced in restaurants.
The war had finished for some five years and there was still rationing in the United Kingdom, it became an election issue in the 1950 parliamentary elections, which became a Labour-controlled parliament.
Petrol rationing ended on 26 May 1950. But when the Conservatives came to power the following year they pushed for more freedom with sugar rationing ended in September 1953, but an end of all food rationing did arrive until July 1954, with meat the last to become freely available without the need for a ration book