Nutritional Reform and Public Feeding in Britain, 1917-1919

Evans, Bryce (2018) Nutritional Reform and Public Feeding in Britain, 1917-1919. In: Dietary Reform, Disease and Innovation. Palgrave, London, pp. 125-136. (Accepted for Publication)

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In 1917, with warfare disrupting food imports, the British Ministry of Food announced the opening of a network of state-run canteens. The government was keen to avoid the stigma of poverty associated with the older charitable model of soup kitchen hand-outs, but also wanted to utilise the volunteer-run community kitchens springing up in working class communities to help deal with food shortages. A popular fix was found - a network of centrally-funded public cafeteria known as ‘national kitchens’ serving cheap yet nutritious food.
The Ministry soon recruited high profile Edwardian food reformers to advise on what food should be served in its national kitchens. These included famous health and nutrition innovators of the age, the likes of Eustace Miles (a vegetarian who ran a well-known health-food shop and restaurant in Charing Cross, London) and Elizabeth Waldie (head-teacher at the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science and author of the best-selling War Cookery which announced ‘Flesh Formers’, ‘Heat and Energy Producers’, ‘Sugars and Starches’ and ‘Blood Purifiers and Bone Formers’ as the four essential food groups).
My chapter will concentrate on the central tension that subsequently emerged. On the one hand, the desire of contemporary food reformers for healthier diets eliminating disease and alcohol dependence chimed with the government’s wartime imperative of frugal consumption and maximum production.
On the other hand, British Ministry of Food officials agonised over the avant-gardism of dietary innovation, worrying that national kitchens would prove unpopular with the public if the state adhered to a discourse of dietary health linked to improving social ideals. This latter concern centred on the popular suspicion that lentils, beans and other forms of dietary avant-gardism would be foisted on reluctant British workers.
The chapter discusses how dietary innovation intersected with cultural resistance, leading to the emergence of ‘The National Kitchens Handbook’, a state-endorsed recipe book which could simultaneously bemoan the ‘appalling ignorance’ of the British people when it came to healthy eating yet instruct chefs to ‘bow to prejudice’ by serving established British meat-based dishes.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > History and Politics
Depositing User: Bryce Evans
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2018 15:19
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2018 15:19

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