As Britain’s supply routes were cut by enemy activity, prices of food and goods began to rise. Ration books were issued in October 1939 but rationing was not introduced until 8 January 1940.
The first weekly ration consisted of 4oz (110g) bacon or ham, 4oz butter and 12oz (330g) sugar. Rationing of meat cuts, but not offal, followed on 11 March. Later, milk, cheese, eggs, tea, sweets, soap and clothes were also rationed. ‘Exotic’ fruit like oranges and bananas vanished from the shops. Hoarding was frowned upon and queues became a way of life.
As Minister of Food Production from April 1940, Lord Woolton initiated a campaign of rhymes and recipes designed to encourage housewives to cook thriftily and ‘make do’.
The cartoon characters Potato Pete and Doctor Carrot were used by the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage people to eat more home grown vegetables. Carrots, for example, were in plentiful supply and, as a result, were widely used as a substitute for more scarce commodities in such culinary delights as mock apricot tart.
‘Dig for Victory’ became a national slogan. Householders grew produce in their gardens and kept hens and pigs in their yards. The Ministry of Food ran Fruit Preservation Centres where local volunteers made jam.
To ensure that everyone received one nourishing meal a day, Government-sponsored British Restaurants provided meals for 1s a head and school meals were introduced for the first time. Workers received extra rations in factory canteens.
Rationing meant that, for the first time, all classes of British society were forced to eat alike. An enforced low-fat, low-sugar diet resulted in a healthier style of eating that many had never experienced before.