What did you eat for lunch today? Cheese sandwiches? Sushi, salad, chips? Have you ever given any thought as to what your food reveals about society in 2016?
Perhaps that wilted spinach you put in the bin earlier reveals more than just your absent-mindedness; instead it might represent our fast-paced, throw-away culture. Maybe your mid-morning kale smoothie is not only a tasty beverage but also in fact evidence of a modern fascination with #cleaneating and the market power of Instagrammable foodstuffs.
Food reveals much about the society in which it is consumed, so for an historian, bringing food into focus is a useful way of exploring social change. No time is this more evident than in the Second World War and its aftermath. What, then, does an examination of food during this period reveal about society? As an example, let’s look at what it tells us about women and class in 1940s Britain.
While women arguably experienced a ‘social revolution’ during the Second World War with more opportunities in work and leisure, women – as expected, particularly given the absence of many men – remained the heads of the ‘Kitchen Front’. In fact rationing, beginning in January 1940 with bacon, butter and sugar, made the lives of women even more difficult, largely as they had queue longer and feed the family on less food. This often meant, in reality, a more creative approach in what they served to avoid too much monotony.
The government, recognising this added burden, aided women by producing a Kitchen Front broadcast that aired on the radio every morning, which divulged new, experimental recipes and provided updates on food news for the day (catalogue reference: MAF 102). Recipe booklets were also produced and included all sorts of weird and wonderful ‘gourmet’ menus! Our war cookery calendars show the range of recipes from giblet patties, mock goose, ‘Emergency Bread’ for ‘unexpected visitors’ and even stewed brain. For more on wartime recipes, see our next blog when we are even going to have a go at cooking (and eating!) some of these creations…
‘Rationing in the Second World War’ tends to evoke images of long-suffering deprivation and deficiency; of well-scraped soup bowls, skinny sandwiches and scrawny carrots – the recipe for stewed brain perhaps testifying to such images! But was rationing all bad? Continue reading »