A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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War conditions have made it necessary for the Ministry of Food to try and convince people in a short space of time to eat other kinds of food than those to which they have been accustomed. The methods used to induce people to change their food habits have differed in certain instances; in the case of National Wheatmeal bread the change was enforced; in other cases, as for instance fruit juices, cod liver oil, dried milk and dried egg, alternative foods were provided for those in short supply and an attempt made to educate the public in the use of these alternatives. On other occasions, education by publicity tried to make people eat more of one food than another, a typical example being the campaign “Eat Potatoes Instead Of Bread”. Another method was to put certain kinds of food on points rationing and leave others free, as in the case of breakfast cereals (processed oats, cornflakes, wheat flakes, etc.) and oatmeal. The Wartime Social Survey was asked on different occasions to estimate the success of the different methods by investigating to what extent people had changed their habits and, in the case of enforcement, in what mood people had accepted the necessary change.

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National Wheatmeal Bread

Up to the 6th April, 1942, 96% - 97% of all bread consumed was white bread; only 3% - 4% of the bread eaten was brown, and this percentage was the result of an intensive propaganda campaign run by a number of brown bread manufacturers.

Brown bread was more popular with the economically better off than with the poorer people. Crawford gives in his “People’s Food for the year 1938” the relation of white bread and brown bread consumed for the highest economic group as 3.7:1 and for the lowest economic group as 28.7:1.

The compulsory introduction of National Wheatmeal bread forced the people to make a sudden change with respect to one of the most important staple foods.

The Wartime Social Survey carried out its first investigation six weeks before the National Wheatmeal bread was introduced, at a time when it had already been publicised a good deal and also had been on sale in many shops. The main objects of the inquiry were to find out how many people had tried the “National Loaf” and what were their reactions to it. The investigation was based on 3000 interviews with housewives all over the country.

47% of these housewives had tried the bread: more housewives in the highest economic group had done so than in the poorest economic group, 70% against 38%.

Those who had given the bread a trial were asked to which of the three sorts of bread available - brown, white, National Wheatmeal - they would give first preference. First preference was given to white by 60%, to ordinary brown by 15% and to National Wheatmeal by 25%. More of the wealthiest housewives than the poorest gave National Wheatmeal bread first preference, 31% against 21%.

One month after National Wheatmeal bread had been introduced, 2008 persons of the adult civilian population were asked “How do you think the bread the shops are selling now compares with white bread?”. The results were:-

23% said National Wheatmeal bread is better than white bread.

25% liked them both equally.

49% preferred white bread.

3% could not make up their minds.

Nine months later, at the beginning of February 1943, another sample of 2656 persons were asked the same question. 49% still preferred white bread. 48% either preferred the National Loaf or considered it equally as good as white bread. Economic group differences remained the same as in the first inquiry.

The number of people who preferred white bread to National Wheatmeal bread had slightly decreased since the time when the National Loaf was made compulsory, but after that it remained constant. This fact may mean two things; first that people who have a strong liking for one sort of food cannot be made to like another sort even by feeding them compulsorily on it for three-quarters of a year; secondly, in the last inquiry people were asked to make a comparison with a food they had not tasted for three-quarters of a year and it is quite possible that they could not make a new judgment and repeated what they had felt when they last tasted white bread. How many people have come to like National Wheatmeal bread even though they say now that they prefer white, can only be judged when white bread can be bought again.

However, those who believe that they don’t like National Wheatmeal bread have a strong enough belief to say, if asked “should National Wheatmeal bread be continued after the war?” that they wish it discontinued and 55% of a sample of 2944 housewives gave this answer.

An analysis of the statements indicating why white or brown bread is preferred gives the following results:-

White bread preferred Brown bread preferred
% %
Because of taste 49 47
Because of its nutritive and digestive value 34 56
Consistency 37 7 4
Miscellaneous 1 4
No. of people making statements 1273 375

About half the statements which express a preference for white or National Wheatmeal bread refer to taste, but more people prefer brown bread because it is more nourishing and better for health than the number of people who prefer white for this reason. At this point it might be useful to remember that the publicity on National Wheatmeal bread before it was made compulsory, made much use of health reasons for eating it.

On the other hand, more than a third of the statements expressing a preference for white bread refer to the consistency of it, and state that it does not get stale so quickly, is less crumbly and therefore more economical than National Wheatmeal bread. How far these statements are based on facts, how far they are rationalisation for the dislike of National Wheatmeal bread, how far the memory that brown bread was dearer than white before the war still lingers on, is very difficult to decide.

People who say they dislike National Wheatmeal bread very often express this dislike in very emphatic terms, such as - “Can’t eat it, it is terrible, dreadful, unappetizing”, etc.

In some cases this strong dislike for National Wheatmeal bread caused a decrease in the bread consumption of a family. In an inquiry made amongst housewives in June 1943, 19% said their families ate less bread than they did a year ago and of these more than a third said they did so because they disliked National Wheatmeal bread. About 7% of the sample had decreased their bread consumption because they disliked it.

In all investigations and on all points the better off economic groups preferred National Wheatmeal bread to a much greater extent than the poorer groups.

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Cod Liver Oil and Fruit Juices

In order to make up for a possible deficiency of Vitamins A and C in children, the Ministry of Food inaugurated a scheme by which children up two years could obtain fruit juice (this scheme was later extended to children up to 5 years) and children up to five could obtain cod liver oil. Originally both these food supplements could be obtained free, but had to be fetched from either the food office or a child welfare clinic. The scheme was publicised through the usual channels.

To the disappointment of the authorities, it was found that a much smaller number of mothers made use of these supplements than was expected. The opinion was put forward that one cause of mothers not taking the supplements was that they were free, and many people are suspicious of being given things free. It was, therefore, decided to make a small charge.

In August 1942 the Wartime Social Survey carried out an investigation with 828 mothers whose children were entitled to cod liver oil and 538 mothers whose children were entitled to fruit juices.

Of the 828 mothers entitled to cod liver oil -

38% took it regularly.

3% gave their children cod liver oil, but bought the supply from a chemist.

32% had taken it, but given it up.

27% had never taken it.

More than a third, but considerably less than half of the mothers, did take the cod liver oil.

The main reason given for not taking cod liver oil, was that mothers did not see the importance of it for the health of their children. This was strengthened by three more factors - (1) many mothers had to make a special journey to the place of distribution, which was very often open only at certain hours; (2) some children did not like the taste, and (3) some mothers dislike the smell of cod liver oil so much that they can’t make themselves give it to their children.

It was not possible from the inquiry to judge which of the factors was at work in inhibiting individual mothers from taking the cod liver oil for their children. Nor was it possible to measure the intensity of the individual factor. There were mothers who disliked the smell so much that they would rationalise and say that cod liver oil was not really important for the health of their children. Other mothers did not think in nutrition terms of their children’s food anyway, and if the child did not like the cod liver oil at the first attempt no other attempt was made. There were mothers who found the journey to the food office or clinic so inconvenient that they did not fetch the oil, reasoning that the oil was not so important as to justify their extra trouble. A further enquiry appears necessary to find out more about the frequency of those reasons.

The mothers who visited a child welfare clinic regularly, took the cod liver oil in a considerably higher proportion than the others.

Mothers using clinics regularly for other purposes Mothers not using clinics
% %
Takes cod liver oil 54 28
Does not take cod liver oil 46 72
Sample 224 588

It is difficult to judge whether the mothers who go to the clinics are those who are more concerned about the health of their children anyway and therefore take the cod liver oil; whether the nurses at the clinic gave the mothers additional health education and the mothers were, therefore, willing to take it; or whether it was such a simple procedure that the mothers took it even if they did not think very much about the health value of it.

Fruit Juices

538 mothers with children eligible for the fruit juice was interviewed. Of these

54% took the juice

46% did not take it.

As in the case of cod liver oil a much higher percentage of mothers who visited the clinics regularly took the juice than those who did not.

Mothers using clinics regularly for other purposes Mothers not using clinics
% %
Takes fruit juice 71 ± 6 46
Does not take fruit juice 29 54
Sample 180 345

The reasons for not taking fruit juices are very similar to those which were given for not taking cod-liver oil - lack of knowledge of the food value, too much bother to fetch it, children do not like the taste.

More mothers took fruit juice than cod-liver oil, but even so nearly half of them did not take it.

Eat More Potatoes

In autumn 1942 the Ministry of Food started a very intensive campaign on “Eat More Potatoes”. Newspaper advertisements, posters and the B.B.C. were intensively used. Slogans such as “Save Bread Eat Potatoes Instead” were extensively used in publicity.

In June 1943 we asked 2269 housewives whether there were any foods of which more was eaten than a year ago. 30% said that they had increased their potato consumption and it was certainly the food in which consumption had most increased.

The foods of which more was eaten were mentioned with the following frequency:-

% *
Potatoes 30
Other vegetables 19
Fish, sausage, spam, etc. 10
Bread 7
Cheese 3
Breakfast cereal 3
Dried Milk 3
Puddings 2
Cake 1
Jam 1
Others 7
Do not eat more of anything 41
Sample 2869

* (Informants could give more than one answer)

Those who had increased their potato consumption were asked what was the reason for this increase.

23% of the 30% who had increased consumption of potatoes said they did so because of the scarcity of other foods. Only 3% gave a reason which could have been the result of the publicity campaign.

It is always difficult to judge the effect of a campaign and it is possible that the 23% who said they had increased consumption because other food had become scarce to some extent show, although they are not conscious of it, the effect of the “Eat More Potatoes” campaign. It is possible, but a qualitative analysis of the answers does not seem to bear this out. The majority always served a considerable amount of potatoes when other foods became scarcer, and without much thought or conscious decision a few more potatoes were used as a substitute for these other foods. Many families increased their use of potatoes, especially as many people dislike the National Wheatmeal bread, and bread was the only other food which could have easily taken the place of potatoes.

Dried Milk

In an investigation about milk consumption made in February 1943, housewives were asked whether they used powdered milk or condensed milk. At the time, condensed milk was on points and dried milk point free. There had also been considerable publicity on the use of powdered milk.

Before the war condensed milk had been used a great deal especially by the working classes, whereas dried milk was hardly used at all.

At the time of the inquiry, the following proportions of housewives used the two types of milk:-

Economic Groups - Housewives
Up to £3.12. £3.12 - £5 £5 and over
% % %
Powdered Milk
Regularly 27 38 53
Occasionally 28 30 29
Never 45 31 18
N.A. - 1 -
Condensed Milk
Regularly 21 18 10
Occasionally 40 44 51
Never 35 33 35
N.A. 4 4 4
Sample 937 977 668

Powdered milk is used regularly by a considerably higher percentage of housewives in the highest economic group than by those in the lowest economic group. The opposite trend is shown for condensed milk; it is used regularly in the poorest group by higher percentage than is the case with the highest economic group. Analysing the answers in greater detail, it is evident that the housewives in the highest income group who use powdered milk regularly were in the habit of using a lot of fresh milk and their ration is now much less than it was. At the same time, they did not use condensed milk a great deal before the war, and prefer to keep their points for other foods than tinned milk. Generally speaking, the highest income group always shows the highest percentage of people who take up new foods and this applies here too.

Breakfast Cereals

The kinds of breakfast cereal in use in October 1942 were the different varieties of cornflake, wheat flakes, puffed rice, processed oat flakes and oatmeal. During the year before the war consumption of processed flakes increased and consumption of oatmeal decreased. Points rationing at first put the group cornflakes, etc., on points and left oatmeal and processed oats free. It is interesting to see whether this measure had any influence on the consumption of the different kinds of cereal.

In October 1942 4398 housewives were asked “Do you serve cereals more or less often than before the war?”

Cornflakes etc. Processed Oats Oatmeal
% % %
More often 14 12 4
Less often 11 8 2
Same 31 34 11
Never use particular kind 26 28 65
Never use any cereal 18 18 18
Sample 4398

On the whole the number of people who use cereals of any of the three kinds mentioned has remained stable. No increase in the number who consume oatmeal has taken place.

In a second inquiry in March 1943, after processed oats had been added to the group of cereals on points, it was found that the main reason given as to why processed oats were still preferred to oatmeal was that they were so much quicker to prepare and used less fuel. This saving in time and fuel seems to outweigh the disadvantage of having to give up points. Whether this attitude would change if foods not on points were scarcer, or the points value of cereals higher, is another question and certainly cannot be decided here.


The effect of different methods of changing food habits was investigated for different foods, each of which had quite different importance in the everyday menu of the people. It is, therefore, not possible to come to any general conclusions.

Perhaps the most interesting result is that even after a year’s enforced eating of National Wheatmeal bread about half of the consumers had not acquired a real liking for its taste. At the same time, education and publicity has made nearly half the mothers conscious of the value of cod-liver oil for their children and induced them to give it to their young children.

The advocacy of a substitute like dried milk has been most successful amongst the economically better off, perhaps because they used the original food in the greatest quantities previously.

When once the use of one kind of food, such as oatmeal for porridge, has been given up because of the labour or time involved in its preparation, it seems evident that a relatively small inducement, such as making it points free, will not increase its consumption.

To educate people to serve a food like potatoes, already used a great deal in everyday menus, in new forms, is a difficult task, especially if there are plenty of other foods available which allow for a varied menu.

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