Created | Updated Sep 23, 2012
News from the past?
It all started with a harmless conversation. A harmless conversation about food, drink and history. One thing led to another, another, and another, and before I knew it I had undertaken to spend a week on a diet. Not the Atkins Diet, or the South Beach Diet, or any of these modern fads – it's the Ministry of Food diet.
For the next week, I'm confined to eating only those things which an adult in Britain in 1940 could eat under war-time rationing.
So, What's All That Mean?
Well, it depends who you are. Pregnant women, for example, could have more milk and cheese. Children had different rations, too. I'll be taking the ration book of the average adult1. To see me through the coming week, I can have:
- Three pints of milk: Nay problem. That should be more than enough.
- Sugar – 8oz/200g: That should be no trouble, either. I don't think I even have any sugar in the house, and definitely don't use it day-to-day.
- Cheese – two ounces/50g: This is worrying. Two ounces didn't sound that bad until I converted it to 50 grams. And it sounded even worse when I looked at my 400g of cheese and saw how small a 50g lump is!
- Butter – 2oz/50g: Bugger. That should be good for two sandwiches if I'm lucky...
- Bacon/Ham – 4oz/100g: This equates to three2 of the slices of bacon I have in the fridge.
- Eggs – Just the one egg...3
- Margarine – 4oz/100g: Should help to eke out the little daub of butter.
- Cooking fat – 4oz/100g. Shouldn't be a problem. I wonder if I could claim butter or cheese as a 'cooking fat'? Somehow I doubt that one would wash!
- Meat (other than bacon or ham) – Meat is an odd one. Unlike most things, it was rationed by price, not weight. I can have one-shilling-and-sixpence worth of meat. In today's money, that seems to be the buying power of about £7.50. So, not that bad...
- Sweets: 3oz/75g. I think I can cope with that.
Things are looking pretty lean, but there are one or two get out clauses. Meals eaten in restaurants or work canteens were exempt from rationing, for one thing. That was a good way for people to effectively double their ration allowance. Well, I say they weren't rationed. You didn't need ration coupons for them. They were still subject to the form of rationing we have now, though: If you ain't got the money, you ain't got the food.
Now, my calculations are a bit rough and ready. A skilled manual worker in 1940 could have made £1, 10 shillings and sixpence. Using the 6d = £2.50 rule of thumb, that's the buying power of £152.50 nowadays. Let's knock off a fifth for tax; £122, say. A third for rent: about £72. Another ten per cent off for transport is £57. Now, let's knock that £57 down to £25 to cover maybe a trip to the cinema and a bottle of beer and the odd newspaper or cigarette and suchlike. Eating out ain't gonna get me very far!
So one egg, a matchbox of cheese and three4 rashers of bacon. Bread's not rationed. Most vegetables aren't rationed. Potatoes aren't rationed. This shouldn't be too hard.
But if I want a cheese omelette, I'm screwed. And no coffee!