What can we as 21st Century readers take from the 14 year rationing?

Flossie – Year 10 Student

Editor’s Note: This wonderful short essay from Flossie (Year 10) looks at wartime rationing and the national response to it, before challenging us to think about our own attitudes and actions towards the supply of food during the current coronavirus pandemic. CPD

World War 2 started on the 1st of September 1939 and lasted for six years and one day [1]. The war resulted in around 80 million fatalities worldwide and is commonly regarded as the deadliest conflict in human history. However, when this all came to an end life was not the same and would not be for many years; one of the things that did not change for the next nine years was food rationing.

[2] It is very hard for us to imagine what it was like being restricted on how many eggs we could eat, how much sugar we could use and how much tea we could drink, but those who lived during the 1940s and 1950s knew this all too well. A weekly food ration for an adult (over 16) would be very limited and included only 2oz of sugar a week, which is not even enough to bake a cake, as you need 4oz. Many other things were rationed such as clothing and butter, but one of the most heavily and longest rationed foodstuffs was meat.

From March of 1940 to 4th July 1954, meat was rationed – that is over 14 years of rationing. Your weekly allowance of meat, specifically bacon and ham, was rationed to 4oz a week with the addition of 1 shilling and 2 pence worth of other meats (about 2 chops). For scale, 4oz of meat is around the size of a deck of cards. It is difficult to understand this as we can go to a restaurant and order chicken wings for a starter and a meat feast pizza for main without a thought about it. 

Many families had to adapt recipes to fit the amount of food and resources available. Many recipes included a mixture of things that today we would think of as slightly strange! Firstly, a WW2 cake: [3] Cynthia’s Eggless Sponge recipe involved ½ a pint of tea, [4] while a luxury of boiled grapefruit was also an option. If your pantry was quite empty, you could tuck into Eggs in Rice Nests, which is exactly what it sounds like: an egg dropped into a ramekin filled with rice, and sprinkled with a small amount of cheese. Today we would just pop out to the supermarket and buy a microwave spaghetti carbonara, or would we?

With the outbreak of the coronavirus and an international panic, ‘rationing’ has begun – whether that only being allowed to buy three tins of peaches opposed to four it is still rationing. Many families raced to the supermarket to buy what they needed but some went overboard. Some decided that they needed 15 boxes of baby milk (yes, I saw this happen) or 20 pints of milk (I also saw this) or eight bags of icing sugar. These acts of selfishness have severe repercussions on the elderly, the young, the ill and the healthy. Many elderly people struggled to get to the supermarket for various reasons and when they did get there, the shelves were empty. There is no need to take food from others when it might end up in your bin instead of their mouth. 

Sixty-six years ago, when meat rationing finally ended and you could buy as much as you wanted, people did not. Many families didn’t go and buy 15 chickens or eight packs of bacon: they would be respectful and leave food for others to enjoy. Many people were still struggling with finances or providing for a large family, so the respect of others was beneficial to a large amount of the post-war population. 

We are often told that we should learn from the past and most of the time we do. We look at the past and change our actions from what we learnt. We decided that putting lead in paint was a bad idea and having open electric wires in houses was a bad idea – so why don’t we learn from the 14 years of rationing? Why don’t we respect one another and not take advantage of being the first one to Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning? The fact is that there are many people struggling, whether that be because they are lonely, ill or finding it hard to pay for shopping during this difficult time. So, as a British citizen, if you are, why not go and donate some food to a food bank and be respectful in the supermarket as were those people 66 years ago? These simple acts of kindness can go a long way for someone in need. 



[1] http://www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk/war/rationing2.html

[2] https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Rationing-in-World-War-Two/

[3] https://the1940sexperiment.com/2009/09/07/cynthias-eggless-sponge-gone-right/

[4] https://www.tptorigials.org/10-weird-wartime-recipes-and-trends/

One thought on “What can we as 21st Century readers take from the 14 year rationing?

  1. I loved this article. I think it was very honest and well written – it is such a sad reflection of some parts of ‘modern life’ and how lessons aren’t easily learnt.


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