Reducing food waste with wartime rations?

Filed in Blog by on February 23, 2010 12 Comments
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page from a war ration book

page from a war ration book

Back in November 2008, I borrowed a fabulous book from the library called “Feeding the nation” by Margueritte Patten. This was only a few months after we had begun our journey into zero waste and I found reading the information invaluable for helping reduce our food waste.

It wasn’t so much inspirational recipes, but reading all about the lifestyle of British people during the war and rationing that had an impact on me.

Margueritte Patten wrote ““Virtually every cook in Britain behaved like a zealous squirrel – we bottled and / or dried fresh fruits, we salted beans, we prepared economical chutneys and pickles; we made the very best used of every available ingredient“. How does that compare to today?

According to WRAP we throw away one third of the food we buy each week. It’s almost as if food has become a disposable commodity. We have no idea about portion control, we can buy what we want when we want, we can eat out of season foods from all over the world, we have access to takeaways, microwave meals and TV dinners – so the whole idea of valuing our food has been lost.

It was Nic, over at nip it in the bud, who first told me about an exciting exhibition opened at the Imperial War Museum by The Ministry of Food.

It is 70 years since the introduction of ration books and the call to ‘Dig For Victory’; and the Imperial War Museum in London is taking a nostalgic look back at how people adapted to the wartime food shortages learning how to be both frugal and inventive on the ‘Kitchen Front’.

It shows that growing your own food, eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, reducing imports, recycling, and healthy nutrition were just as important in 1940 as they are today.

The exhibition runs from 12 February 2010 – 3 January 2011.

A blog has been set up to share gardening and cooking tips and there is a book to support the exhibition called “Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed Your Family Today” written by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall.

During wartime rations, careful shopping and storage of supplies was essential to avoid waste, unlike today where we have an easy-come, easy-go attitude. All basic foods were rationed except bread and vegetables.  Now I’m not suggesting the war was a good thing, but I wonder what we can learn by appreciating the value of food and how this can impact our lives today in a positive way.

Here’s a game for you: Imagine for a moment your wartime adult ration of 1 egg a week – what would you use it for? Tell me in the comment below and then have a look at this wonderful video:



About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (12)

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  1. I’ve got that book too. It’s great and really does make you think about the amout of food that’s wasted these days. I will most definitely visit that exhibition.x

  2. Emma says:

    Hmmm…one egg. A tricky one. If we also get a tin of dried egg powder that can be used for baking then I guess I would have a special egg & soldiers treat once a week 😉

  3. Poppy says:

    I think I would have to auction it to the highest bidder!! 😀 😀

    My DH is very wasteful when he cooks and I cringe at the amount that he uses for one family meal. A portion of mince for instance, that I am planning to spread over 2 or 3 meals, is gone in one!

    I’m a bit surprised at the amount of fats in the ration. I don’t think we use anywhere near that much, I hope we don’t anyway.

  4. Eunice says:

    I would have to use my egg for a once a week batch of lovely thick scotch pancakes (drop scones). The children think they’re the biggest treat we make, and they’re healthy.

  5. Marguerrite Patten was at the press event and was on remarkable form for her age (94 and truly inspirational).
    If I could only have one egg a week I’d savour the egg yolk pure and unadulterated and use the whites to make meringue (having saved my sugar ration up of course!)

  6. Alea says:

    I would use an egg to make pancakes of some type depending on what other items I had on hand. However, I would have to save them up a for a couple weeks to be able to make a cake for special occcasions and birthdays for the children. In the U.S. all of my grandparents kept chickens and some lived on farms (with milk cows), so they were not hit as hard by the war rationing that took place here.

  7. Condo Blues says:

    That reminds me of the TV programme where the family lived in a London 1940’s like during the war, I think it was called 1940’s House or something like that. They had simulated air raids, had to build a bomb shelter, and buy food with ration cards at a simulated war time grocery store. The thing that was hardest for the family was the availability of food and trying to make meals with what they had. When the project was over, the family said it changed the way they used things – they used less.

  8. Anjie says:

    I can remember in the war when I was about 4 years old, my Mother would give my Dad a boiled egg and he would give me a spoonful of the yolk, so I suppose families sometimes shared the egg as a treat. But then, later we kept chickens as so many people did so had more eggs.

  9. magdalena says:

    I’d give it to my husband as a treat, soft-boiled, with toast “soldiers!” I can live without eggs myself, preferring beans. People ate more fat in decades past because they did more physical work and needed the calories. And I sometimes wonder of we need a peacetime programme to teach people better eating and shopping habits, for recycling metals and other scrap materials, and for community building so people do put in urban and suburban gardens.

  10. sandy says:

    here here, a nice soft boiled egg fanastic

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Almost Mrs Average: Hi mrs A; I was reading the book yesterday and thinking about setting myself a challenge to cook 1 meal from it every week 🙂

    @Emma: Mmmm, a soft boiled egg and fresh soldiers for dipping – excellent!

    @Poppy: Hi Poppy, DH is like that too. I cook enough curry for 3 meals and he’ll polish the lot off. He has no idea when it’s all together how much is in there. So now I try and get their first and divide things up into pots…. **sigh**

    @Eunice: Oh lovely. I have never made drop scones; but I’m sure DD would love them – she loves pancakes and waffles, so I bet she would love these too.

    @nic @ nipitinthebud: Great use of your one egg, Nic and I’ve envious that you have met the lady herself! Amazing!!

    @Alea: Great idea; I’m thinking about next week when it’s DD’s birthday – her cake will need 3 eggs; imagine saving them up for 3 weeks!

    @Condo Blues: Hiya, yes I think it’s fantastic to live in such a way that changes your life. We do need to change our ‘disposable’ attitude to food I feel.

    @Anjie: Hi Anjie, I read in a book that a father would have his egg for breakfast and smear a bit of yolk down his children’s school uniforms to make it look like he was rich enough to buy eggs for everyone LOL!

    @magdalena: Love your ideas, Magdalena. I hope this exhibition will enable people to see how wasteful we are as a society and how we can change things in the future.

    @sandy: Another vote for the soft boiled egg. I think DD would ask me to make our egg into chocolate crunch – her sunday pudding treat 🙂

  12. Joy Farmer says:

    As an 80’s child, when even probably the poorest or poor had a diet made compared with what anybody was allowed to buy with rationing coupons, I’d say I’d have to boil the egg or make a bacon, egg, & cheese sandwich, while complaining afterwards that this one egg not enough. I sit here reading this & wondered what people during wartime ate for breakfast since they were only allowed one egg per week. I sure was lucky to not have lived back then.

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