Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Spuds, Spam and Eating for Victory by Katherine Knight

Obviously, Spuds, Spam and Eating for Victory is a book about rationing during WWII. I probably didn't really need to say that! It gives a fantastic overview of rationing, including the details of setting it up, running what was necessarily a quite complex system, and the effect it had on the population as well as the basic details of what each person was entitled to. I learnt all sorts about rationing, from what was rationed and what wasn't to other methods set up to feed people and how much food was produced at home. For example I never realised that bread and potatoes were not rationed until after the war, and that children had an extra sweet ration at Christmas!

Rationing is something I knew very little about (until I read this book), apart from the fact that it existed and that it was what it said. It rationed the amount of food available to each person. Oh and I knew it worked through a system of coupons. But that was it. This book starts by listing the actual quantities of each restricted food allowed, and I was finding myself trying to work out how that fits with the amount of food I would use. The only one that surprised me was the sugar ration because, at 12oz per person per week, I thought that was quite a lot! But I am assuming there was a lot more home baking then (at least more than I do). The only thing that it was impossible to do this for was the meat ration, because this was sold by price, and with inflation and decimalisation it's virtually impossible to know what this would equate to today. That fact though did bring it home to me how fair rationing was. Sold by price, it was a choice with the meat whether it was a small amount of good quality meat, or a larger amount of a cheaper cut. And I never realised that the ration was different, so that some specified workers got extra cheese, mainly manual trades.

This book is really just full of really interesting information, not just about quantities, but how people actually made their food stretch, how the government spread the word (through radio broadcasts and leaflets mainly), what people were encouraged to do and similar. I also thought it was really enlightening that the author used a lot of personal accounts and reminiscences to tell the story of rationing, and it seems as if everyone really got into the swing of things and did what they could for the war effort and the good of the country. I've tried really hard to imagine it, and I just find it difficult to imagine that a whole nation would accept something so life changing now!

I think that was the most striking element of this book for me. I loved all the facts and details about rationing, but it was the community spirit and willingness of everybody to be involved and do their best. And all the voluntary organisations that either developed or expanded because of rationing, the Women's Institute being the most high profile of these. And there was some stuff that just made me chuckle, almost at the absurdity, but more the ingenuity of it all! For example

"In towns there was a pig bin in almost every street, where you were expected to put food waste-though a keen-eyed inspector checked that there was nothing that could have been consumed by humans. One hopes his sense of smell was less acute than his eyesight."

I finished this book with a sense of amazement that we pulled together so much, with, according to this author at least, very little complaint, and a feeling that the less waste ethic is something we could use today, although perhaps not to the extreme of pig bins! And that possibly a little more self sufficiency and thought about our food wouldn't do us any harm.

1 comment:

Anna said...

This sounds really interesting. I know there was rationing, but not how it all worked.

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric