Monica Dyson: Waste not, want not after war rationing

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I was both horrified as well as mystified to learn recently that the average household in the UK wastes around £470 a year in unwanted food.

It seems that we are either cooking or preparing too much, or don’t use food that we have bought in time before it goes off. I don’t know if it’s a generation thing, but I don’t ever waste food and I suspect that’s true of most people around my age.

I believe that, growing up after the war, when it wasn’t easy to obtain the foodstuffs you wanted, we developed a healthy respect for old adages like ‘waste not, want not’ which was something our mothers would say to us when we dared to turn up our noses at the meal in front of us.

Our mothers had suffered during the war when they were unable to feed their family properly through rationing and so the last thing they were prepared to do was pander to anyone who chose not to eat what was put in front of them.

By and large, we were not particularly picky about anything. We played outside a great deal and so were always hungry. If money was tight potatoes were a staple part of the meal and we could always fill up on bread and jam.

It was quite usual to have three square meals a day, but Sunday was the day when our mothers spent most of the day in the kitchen, starting with the preparation of a big breakfast when everything was fried, and great doorsteps of bread. It was believed that fat ‘lined your chest’ against coughs and colds and the rigours of winter.

It didn’t seem long after breakfast before it was time for a traditional roast Sunday lunch. This was always roast beef or lamb or pork, never turkey or chicken as even chickens were very expensive in those days, and if we were lucky we had one at Christmas, and even more lucky if we had a turkey. There were always lots of potatoes, boiled, mashed or roasted and plenty of vegetables, especially if we’d grown plenty in the garden or knew someone with an allotment. There was always a proper pudding on Sundays. Lots of lovely Birds’ bright yellow custard made them a real treat.

Food was never wasted in those days. There always seemed enough meat and vegetables left over from the joint for the meal on Monday washday, which was traditionally cold meat and chips or ‘fry up’, which was a mixture of the left over veg and potato fried up in a pan. The rest of the week we had a variety of wholesome meals like liver and bacon, toad in the hole, bangers and mash – and always fish on Fridays.

I think the reason there was very little food waste – even though there were few people with a fridge – was that housewives had become so adept at producing meals out of very little during the whole of the 14 years of food rationing.

And not able to get sweets, we dipped rhubarb in sugar as a substitute. Try giving that to a child today.