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New Exhibition Shows how British Public Adapted to a World of Food Shortages
A soldier of the London Rifle Brigade by his garden on the Western Front. AP Photo/Imperial War Museum.

LONDON.- Seventy years ago the wartime government announced the introduction of food rationing - a control that was to remain in force for the next fourteen years. To mark this event Imperial War Museum London opened The Ministry of Food, a major new exhibition to show how the British public adapted to a world of food shortages by ‘Lending a Hand on the Land’, ‘Digging for Victory’, taking up the ‘War on Waste’, and being both frugal and inventive on the ‘Kitchen Front’. Visitors will discover that growing your own food, eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, reducing imports, recycling and healthy nutrition were just as topical in 1940 as they are today.

Among the exhibition’s special features are a wartime greenhouse, a 1940s grocer’s shop, and a typical kitchen complete with larder, gas cooker, and an ample stock of economy recipes, including the original Savoy Hotel recipe for Woolton Pie. Visitors will be able to listen to advice on gardening from the BBC’s Mr Middleton, on nutrition from the Radio Doctor, Dr Charles Hill, and on cooking from Marguerite Patten, a nutritionist with the Ministry of Food who broadcast Kitchen Front updates during the war. Further tips will be provided in a selection of the Ministry of Food’s Food Flashes films; each one of which was seen by a wartime audience of 20 million; and on posters that reminded the public that a ‘Clear Plate Means a Clear Conscience’, and exhorted people to save kitchen scraps for the communal pig bin and to ‘Eat More Greens’.

The exhibition explores the story of food from farms, gardens and docks, to shops, kitchens, and canteens. Visitors will learn how overseas imports were drastically cut and how British agriculture had to dramatically increase production to feed the nation, with help from the Women’s Land Army, prisoners of war and those who volunteered at Farming Holiday Camps. Tips to make the most of your vegetable garden or allotment could be as relevant for today’s green-fingers as they were in the 1940s and visitors can discover how lawns and window boxes were transformed into vegetable plots and how allotments holders more than doubled.

The rationing scheme, overseen by the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, ensured fair shares for all and The Ministry of Food exhibition will show how the health of the young was improved thanks to nutritional supplements and advice, and how the housewife played a central role in adapting to new foods, from dried eggs to Spam. The exhibition also highlights how communal eating significantly increased to meet the needs of bombed out families, factory workers and school children and how, after the victory celebrations, austerity Britain survived even greater hardships until the ration books were finally torn up on 4 July 1954.

The exhibition pays tribute to the men, women and children who played their part in the story of wartime food – from the 30,000 members of the Merchant Navy who were killed during the course of the war to the dockers, lorry drivers and bargees who transported goods across the country and the housewives who patiently queued when scarce resources reached the shops. Visitors can find out how the Women’s Institute staffed six thousand Preservation Centres to make jams and pickles and how the Women’s Voluntary Service’s mobile canteens provided emergency sustenance to rescuers and the homeless after air raids.

Imperial War Museum | The Ministry of Food | Healthy Nutrition |

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