Spuds, spam and eating for victory

Spuds, spam and eating for victory: rationing in the second world war by Katherine Knight (ISBN 9780752441887) is another book I’ve borrowed from Edinburgh library.

The cover of the book shows an overflowing basket of vegetables

Part oral history, part archival studies and with some reproductions of the wartime images and leaflets, this book rattles through the issues around feeding Britain during the second world war. The book is well-written (if you don’t mind puns) and there’s an extensive bibliography and references. The case studies are important since the time when we’ll be able to get direct oral history about this period is coming to an end; and the necessity to make-do-and-mend is timely advice in this depression.

Katherine Knight has some evocative turns of phrase. As the war effort used agricultural land in the fens, other marginal land had to be used for agriculture:

war planes used the flat fields of peace, while potatoes climed the mountains to make up for the loss

Rationing schemes

Interesting to hear how rationing was applied: some foods like potatoes, bread and flour were never rationed; other staples like sugar, tea, cheese and butter were rationed by weight. Meat was rationed so that you could only buy a fixed price, although that gave some flexibility in what cuts of meat were purchased for the meals. Further flexibility in food shopping was provided by the points system, which spread and regulated the demand for scare foods that could never be rationed by weight. Seasonal and variable produce were subject to distribution schemes when the items became available.

Dig for victory

There’s a chapter called Dig for victory and vegetables which outlines the two strands for increasing home production: instigating large scale agricultural schemes; and encouraging householders to grow their own. I’m intrigued to find out that

The depression of the 1930s had affected not only industry, but agriculture as well. While scientific methods had been applied in Canada, Denmark and Holland for example, Britain has far fewer advanced farms between the wars. People had left the land for the towns as well.

Dig for victory, a 5 min information film from the national archives

Further reading for me

There was a 1940 farm survey in England and Wales

They fought in the fields: the women’s land army by Nicola Tyrer is available at Fountainbridge library, shelfmark PLACES: WORLD S455

The wartime kitchen and garden by Jennifer Davies is available AT HOME: FOOD & DRINK TX 645.

A National archive search for dig for victory shows that the Dig for victory leaflets are available from the National Archives in Kew, in series MAF45

The art of war – not Sun Tzu but posters in the National Archive in the Production/Salvage section


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