The Truth about Food Rationing in the UK during World War 2

The world is a scary place right now. War, terrorism, political unrest and climate change are just a few of the problems that have been dominating the news recently. Combine these fears with recent events such as the pandemic, high inflation and the energy crisis, and we’re left with a bleak outlook for the future. However, looking into the past we can see that we have faced similar or worse challenges. The 1930 and 40s were a period of fear and devastation for many, as World War 2 took many lives and altered millions more. One particular aspect of WW2 was rationing;every member of society was affected by this and it lasted well beyond the end of the war. In this article we look at why rationing occurred; how it affected people on a day-to-day basis; what foods were rationed; or how it saved lives during wartime conditions.

What is rationing?

Rationing is the controlled distribution of scarce resources, such as food, clothing, fuel, and materials. The government imposes rationing when the supply of these items is less than the demand. Rationing is a way to fairly distribute a limited amount of goods among a large number of people. It is an effort to make sure that everyone gets their fair share. Rationing has been used in many countries during times of war and other crises. It was used in the United States during World War 2 and the Korean War, and in Great Britain during World War 2.

Why was food rationed during World War 2?

Food rationing was introduced in the UK in 1940 in response to the growing consequence of war and the effects that it was having on the British food supply. The British government was especially concerned that a German blockade of the UK would disrupt the flow of food imports. In order to reduce the impact of such a blockade, the government decided to reduce the amount of certain foods that British people ate by introducing emergency food rationing.

Which foods were rationed during WW2?

The Ministry of Food was responsible for rationing in Britain. To purchase rationed goods, one needed a ration book with coupons and housewives had to register with certain shops to buy rationed goods. The coupons allowed for specific quantities of rationed foodstuffs, including sugar, meat, fats, bacon, margarine, cooking fat, milk, jam, tea, cheese, canned goods, dried fruit, cereals, eggs and biscuits, points were used.

As the war continued shortages worsened and the list of rationed products gradually increased.

Milk and eggs were given in large quantities to those in need, including young children and expectant mothers.

Just because food wasn’t rationed didn’t mean that is wasn’t in short supply. For example fruit and vegetables were never rationed but they were often difficult to locate.  The government encouraged the public to grow vegetables in their gardens or allotments in order to meet the needs of the population.

What are the benefits of food rationing?

Food rationing has proved to be an effective way of conserving food supplies during wartime – ensuring that the population are able to cope even when food supplies are extremely restricted. It helps avoid panic and starvation and protects the most vulnerable in society by ensuring there is enough food to go around.  It is also worth noting that food rationing has been used in times of natural disaster, such as floods and droughts and as part of social policies to help people who are in need, such as the homeless and the elderly.

Disadvantages of food rationing

Rationing has several disadvantages. First, it can cause a lot of frustration among people who are trying to economize. People may feel that their lifestyle is too restrictive. Second, it can cause a black market to develop. People who want more than their allotted share may go to black market dealers who have obtained their stock illegally. Third, people may suffer health problems if they are forced to live on too little food. Fourth, rationing doesn’t solve the problem that caused it in the first place. It only puts off dealing with the problem until the crisis is over. Once the crisis is over, the rationing ends and if the problem still exists, rationing may have to be reintroduced.

Final Words: The Importance of Remembering History

The concept of food rationing to UK civilians now feels like a relic of the past – not something likely to be required again.  However the UK is not currently self-sufficient – in fact approximately 50% of UK requirements are imported, meaning that external issues, war or other emergencies could seriously jeopardise the UK food supply chain.As the world goes through a period of uncertainty and volatility it seems wise to anticipate that food rationing could once again be introduced as part of government policy.