March 26, 2010 / 11:41 AM / 9 years ago

London show extols rations era for budgeting Brits

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - London’s Imperial War Museum has some seasoned advice for Britons budgeting their way out of the worst economic downturn since World War Two, learn a tip or two from the wartime rationing years.

The museum’s Ministry of Food exhibition is dedicated to war experiences affecting Britain and the Commonwealth since 1914 and is marking 70 years since World War Two food rations were introduced to Britain in January 1940.

And the anniversary strikes at a time when many Britons are once again struggling to make ends meet, with the British government this week pointing to hefty spending cuts in its annual budget.

Britain may not be facing the food shortages which it confronted in wartime, but its residents are on budgets again and economic austerity often hits eating habits.

“We’re addressing the problems people are meeting today, making foodstuff go further,” Terry Charman, senior historian at the museum, said of the exhibition.

“We’ve become a wasteful society over the years. Why not grow a lot more of one’s own vegetables?” he said, adding that the wartime generations showed more austerity in the kitchen.

“My mother hates to throw food away.”

The country’s Ministry of Food introduced rationing on January 8, 1940 to counter shortages of staple foods such as milk, bread, butter, meat and sugar, supplying each citizen ration books and food coupons to ensure equal food distribution.

An adult’s weekly food allocations in 1943 included 75g of cheese and 225g of sugar.

A wartime government campaign with the slogan “Dig for Victory” spurred Britons to grow their own vegetables, as many ships importing food were torpedoed. More than 30,000 British merchant seamen were killed while shipping food into the country during World War Two.

The exhibition’s walls are festooned with 1940s posters bearing government slogans which promote home-grown food and resourcefulness.

“We want your kitchen waste,” is the message on one painted poster that depicts a winking pig leaning on a bin. Another shows a carrot skipping in a doctor’s coat.

Photographs, too, show resourcefulness of the era, with images of Londoners turning a bomb site into allotments and cows grazing in front of an anti-aircraft gun site.


Visitors at the Ministry of Food exhibition can also look at reconstructions of a 1940s greenhouse and shop, and can jot down the wartime recipes that are on display.

And for those keen to cut kitchen costs while staying nutritional, the museum is running several events how to apply wartime cooking and gardening in the modern day.

Among these upcoming events is “Dig for Victory,” to be hosted by celebrity chef Sophie Grigson and gardener Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall on June 12.

Perhaps the best remembered dish from the era of rationing was Lord Woolton Pie, named after the then minister of food, Frederick Marquis, the Earl of Woolton.

“It was bearably acceptable,” 79-year-old Albert Gerrish, a visitor to the museum, said of the dish which was invented by the head chef of London’s prestigious Savoy hotel in 1941.

Young people in financial turmoil can learn lessons from wartime austerity, Gerrish said, as he looked at an exhibit of a German V2 rocket.

“The most important thing, if you are struggling financially, is to make sure you need what you buy,” he said, adding bananas were the food he missed the most in the 1940s.

“The message is think before you buy.”

For Gerrish, like others brought up in World-War-Two Britain, austerity was a major part of life.

“In 1945 we lost our house because of one of these,” he said, pointing to the V2 rocket exhibit.

“I was 14. It happened at 7:30 in the evening. At 10 am the next morning I was back at school.”

Britons finally celebrated the end of food rationing July 1954, nine years after the end of the Second World War.

The Ministry of Food exhibition runs until January 3, 2011 at the Imperial War Museum. For more see:


Recipe for Lord Woolton Pie, as printed in the Times newspaper on April 26 1941:

“Take 1 pound (450g) each diced of potatoes, cauliflower, swedes and carrots, and spring onions, if possible one teaspoonful of vegetable extract and one tablespoonful of oatmeal.

Cook all together for 10 minutes with just enough water to cover. Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking.

Allow to cool. Put into a dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and cover with a crust of potato or wholemeal pastry.

Bake in a moderate oven until the pastry is nicely browned and serve hot with a brown gravy.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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