A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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During the last few years vegetable consumption in Great Britain has increased.

Sir John Orr found in 1937 that the average consumption of vegetables other than potatoes and tomatoes * was 27 oz. per head per week, and that on an average 6d. was spent per head per week. In this survey 39.3 oz. per head were bought and 14d. spent. To the quantity bought will have to be added 10.52 oz. per head per week obtained from garden produce. Sir John Orr does not give any figures on garden produce, but the number of allotments has increased considerably since the war. In Morley, where figures were available, before the war 200 allotments were cultivated. At the date of the investigation the number had increased to 700, In an investigation of the domestic production of food in England and Wales it was found that the number of gardens producing vegetables has increased by 25% since the war began. **

These figures show a rise in the consumption particularly if it is kept in mind that Sir John Orr covered in his investigation the whole of Britain, whereas this investigation was confined to four industrial towns, recognised. as places with low vegetable consumption and with a low proportion of residents in the higher income groups, who consume more vegetables.

It is also important to realise that though consumption has increased by little more than one fourth, the expenditure has more than doubled.

The detailed analysis given in the following pages shows that average vegetable consumption increases with an increase in the basic wage rate of the main wage earner, and is larger when the housewife stays at home and does not go out to work, and when at least some of the vegetables are home-grown. Average consumption is higher in the two Welsh towns than in the two Yorkshire towns.

20% of all the vegetables brought into the house became wastage in the form of peelings, outer leaves and stalks before the vegetables were cooked. This ratio of wastage remains the same with all the groups by which the material was classified and analysed.

Parallel to the difference in average consumption in the different social groups is a difference in the average frequency with which vegetables are served. In all groups about 50% of the housewives serve vegetables 4 -6 times a week, but in groups with higher average consumption the proportion of housewives who served vegetables every day is greater, and the proportion who served them less often than 4 days a week is smaller. In groups with a lower average consumption the opposite trend can be observed.

4%of housewives of the sample did not serve any vegetables during the week of the investigation. These were mainly poor, elderly housewives.

The meal at which vegetables were served most often is the main cooked meal which, in the majority of cases, is the midday meal. Vegetables served at other than the main meal are mostly tomatoes, baked beans, lettuce, and warmed-up left-overs from other meals. Very seldom are cooked greens or root vegetables served on such occasions.

The vegetables disliked by a considerable number of housewives were marrow, watercress, leeks. In the two Yorkshire towns swedes and parsnips were included as well.

More. children than grown-ups dislike particular vegetables, but the vegetables disliked by the greatest number of children are the same as those disliked by adults.

The two main reasons given by housewives for not serving vegetables on a particular day were:

(a) No hot meal was cooked on the particular day.

(b) No meat dish was served and vegetables are only served with meat dishes.

The influence of price on vegetable consumption was not shown to any extent by direct statements of the. housewives. This, however, should not be interpreted to mean that price has no influence on the consumption level. Food habits are created by many factors and one of them is certainly price, but if a food habit is once established, the factors shaping it may be forgotten. A change in the influencing factors, e. g. a change in price, will bring about change in habit, but the change may be gradual and take a considerable time.

Should the Ministry of Food still contemplate an experiment with vegetables to see the effect of price change on consumption, it will have to be realised that any change in consumption would only express itself after a considerable time. The experiment, therefore, would have to be carried out over a lengthy period before any resulting difference would become noticeable.

[1] In order to compare the figures of this investigation with Sir John Orr’s findings, tomatoes are excluded. In all further tables tomatoes are included as the ordinary housewives consider them a vegetable and not a. fruit.

[2] Domestic Food Production, Geoffrey Thomas, War-Time Social Survey No. 54.

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