Britain’s Food Dependency During WWII
At the start of World War II, Britain was painfully dependent on food imports.
Over two-thirds of Britain’s cheese, sugar, cereal, and fats were imported. So were four-fifths of its fruits, half of its meat, as well as a third of its eggs.
During the Nazi Blockade the British had to rely less on meats, dairy products, eggs, fish, and butter, and instead turned to foods they could raise and harvest themselves. Foods such as wholemeal bread, margarine, potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables were the main staples. Salt was never rationed and ,as a result, was used quite liberally on foods to improve the taste.
One of the Nazi’s main strategies during the Battle of the Atlantic was to blockade the British imports and starve them out using submarines.
The British saw this coming and issued the first ration booklets in September of 1939.
These booklets were not ‘free food coupons’ but instead just allowed the people to purchase the listed foods.
Unique ration books were given to those who requested them. Vegetarians could give up their meats in exchange for more vegetables. Jews and Muslims were allowed to trade meats for cheeses, and Jews were given access to kosher meats. People with diabetes were also taken into account, able to substitute meat, cheese, butter, and margarine for their sugar ration.
In September of 1939, the British first rationed out petrol. After that, the food rations began. In January 1940, bacon, sugar, and butter were rationed.
In the following months, foods that were heavily imported began to be rationed as well. This included meats, cheeses, biscuits, cereals, eggs, lard, milk, teas, jams, and fruit (both canned and dried). Fish were never rationed, but supplies were limited, and people would line up in massive queues outside fishmongers.
Fresh vegetables, fruits, and bread were never rationed but supplies were limited. Oranges were mostly reserved for pregnant women and children, and apples were usually limited to one per person by the farmers and shopkeepers.
Bananas and lemons were so scarce that people thought they no longer existed.
During this time, food prices rose about 20%, which was a remarkable improvement from World War I, when they had increased a whopping 130%.
Eventually, the coupons were accompanied by a points system for various foods. People were given a specific number of points, which was to last them four weeks. Different foods were worth varying amounts of points, based on supply levels. People were originally given 16 points each. That number then changed to 24 points, and then 20 points before the rationing finally ended.
Every week, a food’s points could change, and people would religiously check the newspapers to keep up with these changes.
Foods that were rationed using the points systems were tinned foods, such as meats, fish, and beans, as well as non-tinned items like biscuits, cereals, dried fruits, and legumes.
When the points rationing first began, a pound of canned salmon and a can of American sausage were worth 16 points each. No one was buying the canned American sausage, so it dropped to 8 points, while the salmon rose to 24 points. Eventually, the British gave this strange sausage and chance and came to like it.
This exotic meat was in fact Spam and it was sent over from America in abundant amounts.
Dig For Victory
The “Dig for Victory” Campaign or “Victory Garden” Campaign was wildly successful, and significantly improved the lives (and meals) of citizens everywhere.
Victory gardens were gardens that people grew to rely less on the public food supply and more on themselves. This allowed the government to focus less on feeding the general population, and more on feeding those directly involved in the war efforts. The money that the civilians saved also contributed to the country’s war budget. Shipping space that was freed up by importing fewer foods was then dedicated to transporting war supplies.
Victory gardens were grown in backyards and public areas alike, meaning that even those in apartment buildings and townhouses could participate.
These gardens could be found almost anywhere that land wasn’t being used, such as waste grounds, road and railway edges, vacant lots, front lawns and rooftops. Even golf courses and sports fields were put to good use. Some of the sports fields that weren’t gardened were used for grazing sheep.
Royal Parks and monuments were not exempt from the “Digging for Victory” efforts either. Hyde Park in London was tilled up and gardened. The tennis courts from Sutton, London, were also transformed into community gardens. Onions were grown in the shadows of King Albert’s Monument, and both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle grew victory gardens.
People were also urged to raise rabbits and chickens in their backyards, though this campaign proved much less popular than the Victory Gardens.
Rabbits could be used for their meat and fur, while chickens provided meat and eggs. Both creatures produced waste that could be used as compost for the Victory Gardens.
The rabbit’s fur proved especially handy since clothing was rationed too. A new coat could use up an entire year’s worth of rationing points, so making your own was a smart solution.
During WWII, the British were limited to one egg per person – per week. Vegetarians and pregnant women were granted an additional egg. This limited amount of eggs forced people to raise their own hens. When people grew their chickens, they could trade their weekly egg allowance in for grains to feed the chickens. This was an excellent trade-off, since most hens produced 5-7 eggs each, every week.
When the War finally ended, the population was surprisingly healthier than it had ever been or ever has been since. The Wartime rations forced people to eat fewer fats and sugars, and more vegetables, grains, proteins, and vitamins. The poor and the wealthy ate the same way, thanks to the ration books. Infant mortality rates dropped, natural deaths rose (meaning that people were living longer), and children were taller, heavier, and healthier than before the war started.
In 1945, it was estimated that 75% of all foods consumed by the British, were grown or raised in Britain, making the “Dig for Victory” campaign a major success.
What Can We Learn from This as Modern Preppers?
Should we ever experience a shortage of food, it’s wise to be self-sufficient. We shouldn’t rely heavily on imports, or even grocery stores for what we need, as that can all cease. Means of self-sufficiency include:
#1. Raising gardens and small backyard animals, such as rabbits, chickens, and hogs. This can significantly improve your family’s health, happiness, and mealtimes. If you have a strong preference for what you eat, make an effort to raise or grow that food item. It may become scarce, expensive, rationed, or even non-existent one day.
#2. Stockpiling canned foods can be largely beneficial. Canned foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish are fantastic to keep around. It’s also nice to save herbs and spices so that we don’t become too dependent on flavor enhancements such as salt, pepper, fats, and butter.
#3. When food is limited, and we must eat homegrown, we become healthier. So perhaps instead of waiting for a disaster to to strike, we should already be adapting some of these survival methods into our lives today. For the most part, we are well equipped enough to raise our own foods but many people don’t, and choose to stay dependent out of convenience.
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