Food rationing concentrates the mind in Britain

The wartime allowance for one person for one week, the main restrictions were on meat, dairy products and sugar and confectionary. Other items might not be rationed but were in short supply and difficult to get.

Molly Panter-Downes was particularly good at recording the general British public’s view of the war for her column in the New Yorker. In early August 1941 she addressed the number one issue for most people:

The classic English topic of conversation, the weather, has vanished for the duration and now would be good for animated chat only in the event of a brisk Biblical shower–of oranges, cheese, cornflakes, and prunes instead of manna. Everyone talks about food.

An astonishing amount of people’s time is occupied by discussing ways and means of making rations go further, thinking up ingenious substitutes for unprocurable commodities, and trying to scrounge a little extra of whatever luxury one particularly yearns for.

Nearly everybody now and then finds himself thinking of some kind of food to which in peacetime he never gave a second thought. Strong men, for instance, who normally wouldn’t touch a piece of candy from one end of the year to the other now brood over the idea of milk chocolate with morbid passion.

On the whole, the food situation, although it’s far from good, is a long way from being desperate. The average number of calories which each member of the population consumed during the first year of the war was only one per cent lower than it was in peacetime and it is expected that it will be no lower this year.

Those feelings of emptiness are more the result of turning rather suddenly to a thinner diet; obviously, a nation which once consumed a lot of meat and fats can’t switch abruptly to vegetables and cereals without experiencing discomfort under the waistband.

See Mollie Panter-Downes: London War Notes 1939-1945

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Shakespeare September 3, 2016 at 10:01 pm

My grandmother had very large, very blue, very striking eyes (actually, one of my daughters has the same trait). Just a little girl during the war, her mother soon learned to send her into the butchers to buy rationed food. My grandmother, adorably aged about eight, would stare at the butcher with her big, blue eyes, and asked ever so politely and sweetly if he couldn’t possibly just cut the meat just a little generously, so she wouldn’t be hungry.

And the butcher, a big softy, would smile and give her a little extra.

Val August 14, 2016 at 8:54 pm

My parents told me what a tough time that was. My Mum also told me that nylon stockings were as scarce as chickens teeth and the nylons in those days had seams up the back. The girls made do by drawing a black line up the backs of their legs when they were going out somewhere special!.. True or not, it’s was funny to me as a youngster.. Still today, it makes me smile at the thought of it.

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