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From Plain Fare to Fusion Food

From Plain Fare to Fusion Food: British Diet from the 1890s to the 1990s

Derek J. Oddy
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    From Plain Fare to Fusion Food
    Book Description:

    Simple meals made from a limited range of industrially processed foodstuffs constituted the 'plain fare' which most people in Britain ate from the 1890s until after the Second World War. Dietary surveys show that when wages were low and social conditions poor, health was affected and support the view that malnutrition and dietary deficiencies existed during the first half of the twentieth century. Increasing knowledge of essential nutrients such as vitamins brought scientists into conflict with civil servants, particularly during the Great War and the depression of the interwar years.Wars put great strains on Britain's supplies of food, much of which was imported. In the Great War, civilians suffered unjustifiably before food rationing was finally introduced. The widely held view that the science of nutrition informed government policy in the Second World War is shown to be a myth, since dietary inequalities continued and, by the mid-1940s, children's growth was affected.The technological revolution in food processing, which gathered momentum when rationing was finally abolished in the 1950s, led to the growth of supermarkets, frozen foods and fast foods. By the 1990s, many traditional patterns of eating had been replaced by an ethnic and fusion food restaurant culture. It has been accompanied by new concerns over food safety and health issues - heart disease, obesity - and by an 'alternative foods' backlash. The irresistible question is: are we any better off? DEREK J. ODDY is emeritus professor of economic and social history, University of Westminster.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-077-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 PLAIN FARE: Diet during industrialization
    (pp. 1-10)

    The industrial and urban development of Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was accompanied by major changes in the food of the people. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, the principal determinant of food consumption was the state of domestic agriculture. Before the development of a large-scale international trade in foodstuffs, the population depended on a limited range of food materials available on a markedly seasonal basis. Dietary patterns were determined by the extent to which traditional methods allowed foodstuffs to be preserved. Thus the predominant food material on the eve of the Industrial Revolution was bread...

    (pp. 11-40)

    Until 1914, there was a general belief that people in towns were fed by the countryside. It was obvious to contemporaries that the countryside was engaged in agriculture, though its larger estates still provided opportunities for rural pastimes such as hunting and shooting which reflected past relationships between men of property and the land. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century, the countryside was no longer the centre of political power it had once been and, as the urban population grew, the countryside no longer had the capacity to feed the towns. From 1860 onwards, the adoption of a...

    (pp. 41-70)

    The science of nutrition had become an important weapon for socially aware people in British society at the beginning of the twentieth century. At one end of the political spectrum were those concerned with imperial defence whose interests lay in the health and strength of the British soldier. At the other end were public health reformers investigating the ‘social problem’ for whom the social costs of urban–industrial society were to be found in terms of mortality and morbidity among women and children. Both were interested in physical standards and looked for guidance to the sciences of physiology and nutrition....

  9. 4 THE GREAT WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH, 1914 TO 1921: Discontent on the food front
    (pp. 71-94)

    The effects on diet of the Great War differed considerably from prewar expectations, since neither the length of the conflict nor the effectiveness of the submarine campaign against merchant shipping had been envisaged by politicians and civil servants. For the first two years of hostilities against the Central Powers there were bumper harvests, and supplies were sustained by normal trade conditions. However, in view of the fact that the greater part of Britain’s foodstuffs was imported, the lack of planning was a hazardous strategy, particularly since the supply of ‘the very narrow range of staples eaten by the working classes’...

    (pp. 95-112)

    The necessity for some major readjustment in Britain’s food supply was aggravated by the postwar policy of the Coalition government. Seeking to maintain high agricultural output at home for strategic reasons, the Agriculture Act 1920 offered guaranteed prices for cereals and greater security of tenure to tenant farmers. Faced with the collapse of wheat prices from the high point of 1920, the government abolished the Ministry of Food on 31 March 1921, and hurriedly introduced the Corn Production (Repeal) Act, 1921, to remove price guarantees and reduce agricultural wages. The Retail Food Prices Index, begun in July 1914 at 100,...

    (pp. 113-132)

    When T.S. Ashton wrote his essay ‘The treatment of capitalism by historians’ in Hayek’sCapitalism and the Historians, he regarded the ‘hungry thirties’ as a novel and unwelcome epithet for the years before the Second World War.¹ Ashton’s fears that the 1930s would become labelled in this way were borne out when Branson and Heinemann chose ‘Eating or not Eating’ as one of their themes and later when theHistory Workshop Journaltook up the question in the 1980s.² However, this social concern about the diet of the 1930s has eluded close analysis. The purpose of this chapter is to...

  12. 7 THE SECOND WORLD WAR: The myth of a planned diet, 1939 to 1950
    (pp. 133-168)

    While it was generally accepted that the war ‘might well be lost on the food front’¹ and despite the publication of the Luke Report in 1937, the government had no national food policy when war was declared in 1939, due largely to the political opposition to supplementary feeding programmes. The most important consideration for the people was the government’s immediate assumption of responsibility for the supply and distribution of food. The politicization of the question of malnutrition in the 1930s meant there were many ready to advise the government of its responsibilities. Penguin Books published a Penguin Special in March...

  13. 8 THE REVIVAL OF CHOICE: Food technology, retailing and eating in postwar Britain
    (pp. 169-200)

    At the point when rationing began to be eased, Dr Magnus Pyke reviewed the food of the British people – or at least the majority of them – in a book entitledTownsman’s Food.¹ After ten years of rationing, the townsman – or, more especially, the urban housewife – was thinking wistfully of times of former plenty. The countryside was an important part of this yearning, for it symbolized the source of good food to the urban population. However, Magnus Pyke was uncompromisingly dismissive of nostalgia and feelings of ‘romantic regret for the simple foods of earlier centuries’. Memories of prewar availability of food...

    (pp. 201-223)

    In the early postwar years there was a manifest desire to return to prewar patterns of food consumption and, indeed, the use of some foods recovered quickly from wartime constraints. Table 9.1 shows the trends in food consumption per head per week recorded by the National Food Survey, based on household consumption and excluding food and drink eaten outside the home.¹ As soon as restrictions were lifted, milk consumption rose to about 2.7 to 2.9 litres per head per week in the early 1950s. Similarly, cheese consumption recovered from below 60g per head per week in 1948 to around 80g...

  15. 10 OVERVIEW: Change in the twentieth century
    (pp. 224-235)

    From plain fare to fusion food summarizes the changes that occurred in the diet during the twentieth century, an era which began and ended with agriculture in crisis and the safety of food under scrutiny. For a small, over-populated island, Britain’s policy of free trade before 1914 was necessary for the country to maintain itself by importing food, including much which could have been grown in the country. This left Britain open to ‘starvation’ campaigns during both World Wars. In 1917, and again in 1943, the worst years for submarine warfare, there were times when it appeared as if such...

    (pp. 236-246)
    (pp. 247-247)
    (pp. 248-262)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 263-269)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)