A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

12 13


It is the policy of the Ministry of Food to provide extra rations for workers by supporting and founding canteens where coupon-free meals can be obtained, instead of giving extra coupons. It is therefore important to know what numbers and what categories of workers take meals outside their home.

Table 11 shows (for the whole sample) where people have their different meals.

Table 11

Where Meals are Eaten - by Meal-time

Breakfast Weighted Midmorning Weighted Midday Weighted Midafternoon Weighted Evening Weighted Late Evening Weighted
% % % % % %
Home 92 3 42 8 84 65
Cafe - 4 11 3 2 1
British Restaurant - - 2 - - -
Canteen 2 15 22 21 3 1
Packed Meal 2 21 15 11 3 1
Packed Meal and Canteen * 1 9 4 5 - -
No answer - 1 1 1 2 4
Nothing to eat 3 47 3 51 6 28

* consists of packed meal brought from home and a drink and/or bun bought from canteen.

The overwhelming majority of people eat breakfast, evening and the late evening meal at home; if packed meals are included, it will be seen that 61% of the sample also have the midday meal provided by the home. Although, on an average, 35% buy their midday meal outside their home, variations among the different industrial groups are considerable.

Two-thirds of those who do not eat at home have their dinner at a canteen or British Restaurant; again considerable industrial difference exist, especially for men.

Table 12

Where Midday Meal is eaten


Docker Shipyard Miner Building Public Utility & Transport Iron & Steel Light Engineering & Textile Distributive Clerical
% % % % % % % % %
Home 24 31 61 19 50 42 38 50 38
Cafe 11 3 - 7 11 2 5 24 33
British Restaurant 1 1 - 1 2 4 4 4 3
Canteen 42 15 21 18 13 26 29 11 15
Packed meal 5 46 5 45 14 21 17 8 47
Packed meal and Canteen 13 1 1 7 1 3 6 - 2
No answer 2 2 1 2 1 - - 1 2
Nothing to eat 2 1 11 1 8 2 1 2 -
SAMPLE 411 298 403 208 406 415 409 208 204
Table 13

Where Midday meal is Eaten


Distributive Clerical Light Engineering Textile & Leather Public Utility & Transport
% % % % %
Home 51 47 49 32 59
Cafe 16 24 9 7 6
British Restaurant 1 1 2 3 2
Canteen 20 17 28 37 14
Packed meal 6 9 12 13 5
Packed meal and Canteen 3 1 2 8 2
No answer - 1 - 1 -
Nothing to eat 3 - 2 - 12
SAMPLE 466 309 248 290 204

The sample is relatively small for each industrial group, and therefore the differences are not so significant; but it is certain that few building workers manage to go home for their midday meal, and clerical workers frequent cafes more than any other group. Dockers appear to use canteens much more than shipyard workers, but this apparent difference might well be due to bias in sampling. It is extremely difficult to get a proper sample for shipyard workers and dockers, as often, for security reasons, interviewers cannot enter yards which should be visited from the point of view of sampling.

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At the factories of 61% of the workers in the sample, hot dinners were served at midday. The prices of the dinners, most of which consisted of meat, two vegetables and pudding, are shown in the following table:-

Table 14

Prices of dinners served in canteens

Under 11 d. 35
11d. - 1/1d. 45
1/2d. - 1/4d. 15
More than 1/5d. 2
N.A. 3
All those for whom canteen meals were available 2758

In 80% of all cases the meal did not cost more than 1/1d. In most cases another penny was spent on a cup of tea. Though canteen facilities were available for 61%, not all could have obtained dinners, as the serving capacity was insufficient; this will be seen from the following table:-

Table 15

Service facilities at canteens

Up to half of the employees. 54
1/2 - ¾ of the employees 18
3/4 - whole of the employees 21
N.A. 7
All who had canteen facilities 2758

More than half of those who had canteens at their work said that there was serving capacity for less than half of the employees. This fact indicates that not all (61%) of those who had canteens at their works could have had their dinner there, even if they had wanted to. In fact, 21% ate their dinner at a canteen on the day to which the interview referred. As it is the policy of the Ministry of Food to increase the number of meals taken at canteens, it seemed worth while to find out why people who could eat at a canteen did not do so. People who had a canteen at their works and did not use it were asked what their objections to canteen meals were:

Table 16

If works has a canteen and meals are not taken there - why not? *

Male Female
% %
Easy to go home, prefer to go home 35 40
Don’t like the food 32 25
Used to packed meal 14 8
Overcrowded, dirty 7 5
Too expensive 7 3
Have to use lunch-hour for other purposes, can’t leave bench 3 8
Prefer British Restaurant or Cafe 3 4
Particular shift canteen not open 3 1
Need a break, fresh air 2 4
Miscellaneous 4 3
No answer 7 8
All who do not take meals, where there are canteens 870 390

* One person could give more than one reason

More than a third gave as the main reason for not going to the canteen; that they prefer to go home: their wives do not like them to stay, and it is easy to go home because they live near, etc. The argument that the wife wishes them to come home is particularly frequent, and from conversation with housewives it would seem that quite a number are afraid that if a wife does not cook her husband’s main meal she loses an important function in his life.

Dislike of the food served at the canteen is the next most important reason for not eating the main meal there. It is difficult to come to a definite decision as to the cause of the dislike. It is true that in some canteens the food is not satisfactory, but there are other canteens where the standard of cooking is apparently good and yet certain people say they dislike the food. One reason might be that mass cooking is probably always inferior to individual cooking. On the other hand a number of housewives are not very good cooks, yet husbands put up with their efforts; this may be due to habit.

The force of habit in feeding behaviour is also shown in the relatively large number who bring packed meals instead of going to the canteen, in spite of the fact that (as is shown in a number of inquiries) housewives complain about the shortage of fat, spreads and sandwich fillings.

Other reasons for not going to the canteen are:

(a) The wish to have a break and to be away from the factory for a while;

(b) The need to shop during the lunch hour;

(c) Shyness; a certain number of people do not like to go to the canteen because they are too shy to eat in front of other people. Interviewers came across people who had hardly eaten out in their life; the “pub” was the only social meeting-place they visited, and they never went to cafes or restaurants. They ate their packed meals in solitude behind their machines.

(d) Expense; a small number of people think canteen meals are too expensive. An analysis of the prices charged at their canteens shows that the prices are no higher than the average.

Women and men do not differ very much in their reasons for not using canteens.

It is interesting that in all these cases the need or wish to supplement rations is not strong enough to overcome these difficulties in using canteens, which are more psychological than objective.


Packed Meals

19% of the sample bring packed meals from home to eat at midday; 30% and 16% bring something to eat at mid-morning and mid-afternoon (Table 11). People who want to eat something at the mid-morning and mid-afternoon break have to bring a cake or a sandwich from home, if, as in many cases, nothing is supplied by the works catering department. However, there are people who bring packed meals at midday, even though canteen meals are available. Some of the reasons for this are the same as those given by people for not using canteens; even so, it was thought worth while to ask those who brought packed meals why they did so.

Table 17

Reasons for taking packed meals

No canteen facilities for buying a meal 26
Particular shift canteen not open 3
Prefer to, habit 26
Has to, can’t get out, less trouble 18
Too expensive to do otherwise 10
Food, canteen bad 9
Have to queue too long, too far to go to canteen 6
Too far to go home 5
Only like one hot meal a day, prefer this at night 3
Health reasons, special diet 2
Miscellaneous 5
All who take packed meals 1430

Nearly a third bring packed meals because canteen meals are not available. Among those who bring packed meals, when canteens are available, the reason most often given is that bringing sandwiches is an old habit, and there is no incentive strong enough to change this habit. As already stated, in some individuals custom is a very decisive factor in feeding behaviour.

The following table shows what food items are taken for packed meals at midday.

Table 18

Constituents of packed meals taken at midday

Meat sandwiches 26
Bacon sandwiches 7
Fish sandwiches 4
Egg sandwiches 3
Cheese sandwiches 41
Bought meat pies 4
Potatoes 4
Vegetables 2
Bread only 3
Bread and spread 21
Puddings 1
Buns, cakes, biscuits 17
Tea 75
Milk or milk beverage 2
Other beverages 5
Others 3
All taking packed meal at midday 817

With the exception of the few who bring cooked meals and warn them up, packed meals at midday consist mainly of sandwiches and tea. Cheese is the sandwich filling most often used.


Satisfaction with canteen

So far, only the opinions of those who do not use canteens have been shown. The next table shows what the people who actually use them think.

Table 19

Are those who take meals at their works canteen: satisfied or dissatisfied? *

Male Female
% %
Satisfied 69 76
Don’t like food 17 10
Not enough variety 7 9
Not enough to eat 11 4
Too expensive 2 -
Too overcrowded 6 1
Miscellaneous 1 -
No answer 1 1
All who take meals where canteen is provided 965 534

* More than one reason can be given by the informant.

The majority say they feel satisfied with their canteen. Of those who complain, the main trouble is quality or quantity of the food.

Comparison of results 1942- 1943

Again, the results of this section for the two inquiries are not quite comparable, but they show the same frequency figures for canteens, British Restaurants, and also (more or less) those who bring packed meals.

It was also found that, wherever they are comparable, the reasons for bringing packed meals and for not using canteens are of similar frequency.

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