A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Whenever the Ministry of Food does any planning the question arises do any group differences in food habits or attitudes towards food exist, and if they exist, of what intensity and kind are they?

Whenever the Wartime Social Survey undertook a survey its results were analysed under four headings: region, working and non-working housewives, age and income group. This analysis served the dual purpose of showing differences where they existed and also giving material which would help to decide in further surveys what kind of sample should be chosen to give the desired result most economically.

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The most outstanding fact about regional groups is the lack of any striking regional differences in food habits and attitudes throughout England - though Scotland is different in many respects.

Such differences as there are, are rather trivial in character. Some of these arise from the natural advantages of a particular area, e.g. East Anglia - rich in agriculture and fisheries; others may arise from war time differences in food distribution; others from differences in the occupations of the inhabitants of the area.

The North and Midlands - large industrial areas - seem to have a lower milk consumption. They also show themselves slow in adaptation to the benefits of National Wheatmeal bread, holding in a more strongly conservative manner than elsewhere to a preference for white bread. The strength of the complaint from the Midlands about queueing and the adverse affect of war time diet on general health might be attributable to factors other than actual food distribution, - the bombing of shopping centres, overcrowding, working housewives, transport difficulties to market towns each provide a clue which should be considered in relation to the problem as a whole. The only significant differences so far found for the London region are a greater use of British Restaurants and the greatest number in favour of extension of food rationing.

The lack of differences in local food customs is particularly striking. A few that are indicated are:-

  1. (1) Popularity of Meat Pies in the North.

  2. (2) Popularity of Fish and Chips in the East.

  3. (3) The different use made of the jam ration.

  4. (4) The more extensive use of baking mixtures in the Midlands.

  5. (5) The big difference in consumption of prepared desserts in the East and South.

  6. (6) Certain differences in the use and popularity of vegetables.

Of these some, e.g. (2) and (6) are again attributable in part to natural advantages and others, e.g. (3) and (4) to occupational differences as they affect the planning of the daily diet.

Differences (1) and (5) only, seem to bear no relation to present war time conditions and to have their cause rooted in tradition and the past.

How far the war and rationing have blotted out regional differences is difficult to say as we have no comparable data for pre-war years. It will be interesting to note the changes that take place when variety and plenty again give scope for individual preferences.

Scotland presents a picture distinct from the rest of Great Britain. There custom has not been obscured to the same extent by a scarcity standardisation partly because of a history of domestic simplicity and careful self-sufficient housekeeping, and the strength of tradition is enhanced by a strongly national emotion. Thus we find in Scotland:-

  1. (1) Considerably greater use of oatmeal. (National product used in a great variety of ways)

  2. (2) Considerably greater number using jam ration for tea (traditional).

  3. (3) Considerably fewer people using bought meat and fish pastes, powdered and tinned soups, custard powders, bottled sauces and bought pickles. (Use reflects on housewives' self-sufficiency)

  4. (4) Fewer people using British Restaurants. (Again reflecting on the self-sufficiency of the housewife)

It is interesting to note also that Scotland with its history of comparatively greater economic struggle and stringency, complains less of loss of health and strength, and is prepared to do without more.

Differences between Housewives Working (outside their homes ) and non-working.

A housewife was defined as working when she worked thirty hours or more a week outside her home besides running or at least controlling her own household.

There appear to be very few differences in food habits and opinions between working and non-working housewives. The differences that exist are those that would be expected - the working housewife sacrificing food value to expediency. On the whole she is more wasteful over the cooking of vegetables and makes less use of oatmeal and flaked oats. Naturally also she is less able to make her own jam or made-up dishes.

Age differences

Interestingly enough, no real age differences exist, even in the preparation of vegetables. It seems that how a young wife cooks is influenced more by what her mother does than by what is taught or advocated by other agencies. It is also true that the middle aged housewife, when she has reared her family, begins to be interested again in the outer world and at this age many more women attend cooking demonstrations, and lectures and are prepared and have more time to try out new dishes.

Economic Group Differences

For the purpose of food surveys people were divided into two main income groups as those families in which the wage rate of the principal wage earner was less than £5 a week and those in which it was more than £5 per week.

Comparing the food habits and opinions of these two groups three main types of difference appear.

  1. (1) Difference in the types of food used.

  2. (2) Different opinions about food schemes.

  3. (3) Differences in cooking habits.

There is one connecting link between these three types of difference in that it is possible to state that each one is affected by the fact that housewives in the upper income group are educated to a higher degree and are more responsive to the education and publicity on food values that has been released on the community, particularly during the last decade. Thus in group (1) we find housewives in the upper income group using more of all types of vegetables, a greater number of them preferring National Wheatmeal bread to white, and using more potatoes for new dishes finding other uses than porridge for oatmeal.

In Group (2) we find them emphasising the importance of butter, fats, vegetable milk, eggs and fruit when more people in the under £5 a week class make mention of meat and bacon.

In group (3) we find the upper class housewife wasting far less minerals and vitamins in the method she adopts for cooking vegetables.


With the exception of differences between economic groups, food habits and attitudes to food problems are not very varied in the different parts of England, at least now, during the war.

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