In Britain, we don’t like being told what to eat. It can conjure lots of strong feelings when the government pitches in and tells the public not to waste food or celebrities campaign to stop people buying cheap chicken.
If you’re interested in the environment, however, you’re interested in the food on your plate. How far has it travelled? Could you grow it yourself? What has it been sprayed with? How much carbon was used to produce it? We at One Planet Sutton are interested (even excited!) about all those questions – hence our Food Project to help local people grow and buy fresh, local produce.
So it was fascinating to visit the Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. During the Second World War, the government needed to start talking to people about what food they were eating and the impact it had. The more food that was imported, the more merchant ships needed to cross the Atlantic in danger from German U-boats. The more intensively it was farmed, the more petrol and metal was taken away from the war effort. The more food that was wasted, the more lives were in danger, simple as that.
While we’re not at war or under rationing, the exhibition conjured some really interesting thoughts. First, how quickly the country could turn around from 40% imports to being almost self-sufficient, despite doing most farming by hand. The number of allotment holders and keen amateur gardeners that sprang up is testament to what people can do if they believe in the need for something. And that legacy continued after the war and after rationing was finished.
Second, that people we healthier under rationing than they had been before, by eating a balanced, high fibre, low meat diet – the same whether you were rich or poor. The government had a big part to play in this, through education and information.
And third, that I’m very glad that I’ve never had to do some of the things with spam that our grandmothers did…
So it turns out that growing your own food, eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, reducing imports, recycling and healthy nutrition were just as topical in 60 years ago as they are today – though for very different reasons. And we aren’t limited to one egg a week…
The Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial Ward Museum, Lambeth, runs to 3 January.