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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


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As early as 1936, the government had started to prepare plans for food supply and rationing in what was increasingly perceived as the coming war. (1) Initially these plans were modest in nature and with no larger nutritional policy in mind: the experience of the war however was to change this. In 1939 the Ministry of Food was established under W.S. Morrison, later to come under the direction of Lord Woolton. Government policy centred on increasing home production, on controlling prices and supplies and on rationing. Certain staple foods like potatoes and bread were not rationed, though the extraction rate of flour was raised, slightly variably, to eighty-five per cent; other foods like meat, fats, and sugar were rationed, with additional flexibility allowed through the points system, which enabled the government to share out sporadically available foods, or food temporarily in excess. Certain needy categories like children and expectant mothers received additional allowances. The pre-war nutritional advances meant that the elements that made up an adequate diet were now largely understood, and the government under the guidance of Professor Drummond implemented a far-reaching social and nutritional policy whose aim was an adequate diet for all. Thus the war-time rationing, together with rising incomes, became the means of achieving Boyd Orr's dream of the provision of food according to need and the banishment of the nutritional want that his, and other's, surveys of the thirties had exposed. For the first time ever, the bottom ten, twenty, thirty per cent of the nation was adequately fed. This fact is reflected clearly in the health of children and others during the war. (2)

The vegetarian societies had begun to make representations to government during 1937, and in a series of negotiations that continued between 1939 and 1942 certain concessions were gained, chiefly the additional supply of cheese and fats and a special allowance of nuts. Some 50,000 registered as vegetarians during the war, though this number is known to include some from families who took up a vegetarian ration book so as to get extra cheese. (3) Many vegetarians look back on this official recognition and see it as an important stage in the wider acceptance of the diet, They look back also with favour on the war-time diet itself, since with its brown bread and high vegetable content, and with its low levels of meat and sugar, it embodied many of their own ideals.

With its ideas of planning and of fair shares, and with its inheritance from the thirties concern with social investigation, rationing in the war takes its place among a series of measures that laid the basis for the profound social and political changes that emerge out of the war. Paul Addison (4) has argued that the experience of the war, with its planned economy and full employment, with its direction of supplies and welfare provisions, and with its ideas of pulling together and the people's war, created a new consensus within government, whose national expression came in the landslide Labour victory of 1945. It was a vote for radical social reconstruction, and 1945 saw a great upsurge of aspirations and hopes for a new society. (5) Out of this feeling came the National Health Service, Town and Country Planning, social security and family allowances; it ushered in the post-war pursuit of full employment and the adoption of Keynesian economic and budgetary control. For those on the left, socialism once again seemed within reach. By and large vegetarianism flourishes in such periods of quickening social - and especially socialist - hopes: wherever the new society is dreamed of, vegetarianism tends to find a place. But this was not the case in the post-war years. The explanation lies in austerity. Britain's post-war financial circumstances imposed considerable restraints; food rationing, continued throughout the forties and after - in some years at even more stringent levels - and meat was only de-rationed in 1954. People were starved of the delicacies and luxuries of life and were in no mood for the adoption of the further austerities of vegetarianism. Stafford Cripps, especially as Chancellor from 1948, achieved national fame as the epitomy of the austerity years, and his well-known vegetarianism only reinforced the public association of it with denial - something the nation was in no mood for. (6) During the 1950s with rising incomes and with the return of food and other luxury goods, the post-war mentality persisted. People now wanted to enjoy themselves, to settle down, to pursue the conservative, solid social patterns that mark the period. Vegetarianism had no part in this.

  1. For diet during the war see How Britain was Fed in War Time: Food Control 1939-1945, n.a., HMSO 1946; and Burnett, Plenty and Want, Chapter 13.
  2. For health see Burnett, p330; 'Deaths fell in the UK from 50 per thousand in 1939 to 46 in 1944, and maternal mortality declined over the period from 2.55 per thousand to 1.53'.
  3. For vegetarian rationing see a file of cuttings and papers at the Vegetarian Society headquarters, Parkdale, Altringham.
  4. Paul Addison, The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War, 1975.
  5. This feeling had already begun to emerge during the war; in the context of food, Boyd Orr caught the mood of hope and of post-war planning for a better society, see his, Fighting for What? 1942, and Food and the People, Target for Tomorrow No 3, 1943; and it owed much in its emphasis on planning to the rationalist social progressivist strand of the interwar years.
  6. The 1951 Festival of Britain represents the last fling of this mood of idealistic social reconstruction. Michael Frayn, catching this quality, took up the food metaphor: 'Festival Britain was the Britain of the radical middle-classes – the do-gooders; the readers of the News Chronicle, The Guardian, and The Observer the signers of petitions; the backbone of the BBC. In short, the Herbivores, or gentle ruminants, who look out from the lush pastures which are their natural station in life with eyes full of sorrow for less fortunate careers, guiltily conscious of their advantages, though not usually ceasing to eat the grass. And in making the Festival, they earned the contempt of the Carnivores - the readers of the Daily Express the Evelyn Waughs; the cast of the Directory of Directors – the members of the upper and middle classes who believed that if God had not wished them to prey on all smaller and weaker creatures without scruple, he would not have made them as they are'.  Quoted in Maurice Punch, Progressive Retreat, 1977, p100.


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