I happened to notice that 8 January, 1940 was when rationing started in the UK.

When I was born in 1952, some foods were still rationed. Sugar, butter, cheese, margarine, cooking fat, bacon, meat and tea were all still rationed, and it wasn’t until two years later that the last food rationing ended. Obviously, as a two-year old, I was completely unaware.

After the second world war began in September 1939, the first commodity to be controlled was petrol. Then, in January 1940, bacon, butter, and sugar were also rationed. Gradually, meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk, canned and dried fruit were also rationed. Later as the war continued, other items were introduced, including clothes and even soap.

Every individual was issued with a ration book, and they had to register at their local shops. The shopkeepers were supplied with enough food for everyone who had registered.

Because the ration books worked on a coupon system, people could only buy their entitlement, and no more.

As rationing continued, a black market started to prosper. It was a very lucrative industry, and people who could afford it could purchase all sorts of luxuries that were difficult to come by. Everyone else, had their own way to get around things. If you got on with your butcher or grocer well, then you may have been lucky to get little extras added.

I remember my mum telling me that when Dad came home from war, her mum would swap one of her rationed goods for sugar, because my dad had a very sweet tooth, and the small amount of sugar that was allowed wouldn’t have gone far enough.

There was quite a difference in rationing for people living in cities, compared to those living in more rural areas.

A typical person’s weekly ration allowed them 1 egg, 2 ounces each of tea and butter, an ounce of cheese, eight ounces of sugar, four ounces of bacon and four ounces of margarine.

The above was typical for a city dweller, but people living in the countryside, often had access to more eggs, milk, butter, cheese and of course, animals could be caught, trapped or poached from the local area.

The other big initiative, was ‘Dig for Victory’. This encouraged everyone to turn as many green spaces as they could into allotments, allowing them to grow enough to feed their own family, as well as provide meat and eggs by keeping chickens.

Before the war, Britain imported about 75% of its food. By 1945, when the war ended, 75% of food was produced here, and allotment numbers rose from 815,000 to 1.4 million. 

In 2020, we imported around 46% of our total food. When it comes to fresh produce, we import almost half of our vegetables and around 80% of our fruit each year. 

One of the big differences between wartime and now, there was more land available for allotments, there were around 20 million fewer people, and their diet was less varied than today, and primarily, based on UK-grown seasonal produce.

Now, we have become used to a wide range of fruits and vegetables, many of which we can’t grow, due to our climate. I have to admit, among other non-native fruits/veg – I love avocados, and we certainly don’t grow those here.

With many Brits living in flats or accommodation without green space, (particularly in larger cities), and much of our landscape being covered in housing estates, the idea of ‘growing’ your own as in ‘’Dig for Victory has taken on a new lease of life. Community gardens have become much more of an acceptable thing, especially in cities – all around the globe.

Even modern estates, where people have large detached houses, they rarely have big gardens, and most gardens these days are places for recreation as much as for gardening.  We live our lives very differently since the war. There are far fewer stay-at-home wives, and we have become accustomed to relying on a supermarket shop to buy all of our groceries. At weekends after both working, most couples want to spend their time together or with their children or friends – perhaps going out to the countryside, or taking part in sports or other hobbies.

My own mum wasn’t a stay-at-home mum, because when I started secondary school in the early 1960s, she had a part-time job, when many other mums did still remain at home. Mum shopped locally though, as we didn’t have access to a big supermarket near us at that time. Also, we didn’t own a car, so weekends were either spent at home, or travelling with other members of his team to watch Dad play cricket. We did grow a small number of edible foods – peas, rhubarb, gooseberries and we had fruit trees in our very long garden. My dad though, did not have green fingers.  He was far better at mowing the lawns and building bonfires!

Over the decades since the war, we have become a very different nation. We have embraced foods of the different cultures who have settled in Britain, making our diet far more interesting, and we are used to shops being open almost 24/7. Our lives are far easier in the day to day living – BUT, all of us over that time, have helped to create where we are today.  I’m definitely not saying that I would like to go back to live in the 50s or 60s in any way, shape or form. 

Today in the UK, with the cost of living crisis, people are having to be more careful about how much they spend on food, and as we know, many families, including those where both parents work, are still having to use ‘food-banks’. 

Now, some people are being forced into rationing what they eat, due to lack of funds. But just like the 1940s, the more financially secure families still have the option to choose to spend on the things they love. They may have to cut back a little, but not to any real expense to the enjoyment of their lives, unlike many others who have no choice to ration the types of food they eat, and the amount they spend, to help eek out their funds.

I’m not a keen gardener, and have never grown vegetables, or fruit, but maybe it is a time to consider a version of ‘dig for victory’ again, and start growing some of our own crops. 

Do you grow your own veg or fruit?