The good old days
Joan Bakewell has an article in the Telegraph today saying pretty much exactly this:
We all know what we ought to be doing: more exercise and a total revision of our eating patterns; no snacking; a nourishing breakfast and two lighter meals to follow; fresh fish, meat, veg and fruit; fewer prepared foods, less alcohol. It’s easily said. So why don’t we do it?
Well quite. The thing that made me think about her article though, was its opening:
I grew up during the war and I recall being almost perpetually on the edge of hunger; obesity wasn’t an issue. Rations were just enough to keep you going, and food was seen merely as fuel.
I'm currently reading a fascinating book by David Edgerton, Britain's War Machine, which takes apart a lot of the mythology of World War Two - particularly the idea that Britain went into the war under-equipped and the whole concept of "standing alone" in 1940. As David Frum says:
Did the defeat of France in 1940 leave Britain "alone"? Only if commanding a global alliance that included all of South Asia, Malaya, the future Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, most of the Middle East, most of Africa, not to mention the dominions of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is "alone."
As to rations being "just enough to keep you going, this simply isn't true. Britain was the only European country where basic foodstuffs weren't rationed. Bread, potatoes and vegetables were plentiful all through the war (although the bread did change from white to brown). Although total foodstuffs imported into Britain during the war were cut by half, the overwhelming majority of this was animal feed and 'exotic' fruit and vegetables. Rationing was really driven by the increased prosperity of thee working classes that the war brought - a massive expansion in demand for skilled and semi-skilled labour saw the purchasing power of the working classes expand significantly. The products that were rationed were precisely those (meat, sugar and dairy) that such an expansion would cause substantially increased consumption. As it was, for the bulk of the population calorie intake fell only a little, and protein consumption actually increased.
Quite apart from anything else, restaurants and staff canteens were off-ration all through the war. The real reason that Joan Bakewell remembers being hungry during the war is that she was born in 1933 and was thus 6-12 during the war years. The major reduction in consumption during the war years was sugar - something that must have been particularly hard on children. It's all very well having all the potatoes, carrots and bread that you can eat, but it doesn't make up for no sweets, cake or biscuits.
For what it's worth I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, and I remember being permanently hungry from 6-12 as well. I can assure you that this was nothing to do with rationing...