World War One : Feeding The Many
By 1917, almost a third of male farm workers had gone to war along with mechanics and blacksmiths, work-horses had been requisitioned, machinery was limited and fertilisers and feed were in short supply.
War Agricultural Executive Committees were formed in each county to assess these shortages and distribute labour and supplies to farms in need of assistance. These committees would report on how to increase production in each county. The labour shortages were addressed using the Women’s Land Army, experienced soldiers and prisoners of war. Privately owned motor tractors were requisitioned by the committees and along with imported tractors from America, were allocated to farms in the area.Any area that could be turned over to food production was used; back gardens, allotments and even the gardens at Buckingham Palace. In 1916, it became illegal to consume more than two courses for lunch in a public place or to have more than three courses for dinner. The Government introduced a voluntary code of rationing in February 1917, with the aim of reducing the consumption of foodstuffs in short supply, and to show how to avoid waste when cooking. Voluntary rationing was, however, largely ineffective; food remained unevenly distributed and some poorer communities became malnourished.
Compulsory rationing was gradually implemented from December 1917 to try to distribute what food the country did have as evenly as possible. Sugar rationing was soon followed by restrictions on butter and meat, cheese and margarine. Purchases were regulated by coupon books, distributed to the civilian population. Food brands like Oxo and Bird’s Custard marketed their products as a nutritious, freely available substitutes for rationed food, while others offered ‘ration hints’ and cooking tips for adapting to the new regulations. Harrods even introduced a line of new ration-book wallets for the stylish ration-shopper. Wasting edible food was inconceivable; if someone was caught wasting food fit to eat, or abusing the rationing system, they could be fined or even imprisoned.Source: Article by Laura Stearman with supporting research from Dr John Martin, De Montfort University for the NFU.