Viva Brighton #1: Ration Shit, Not Staples

Should we bring back food rationing? I welcome discussion of the points raised in my first Viva Brighton column in the comments below.

When I was a kid, I ate a whole range: microwave curries, chilli con carne, Quorn fillets, fish ‘n’ chips and, annually, my body weight in pasta pesto. You see, my mum loved to cook, but as a disabled person, she couldn’t much. Our meal plans improved when Mum had a carer who enjoyed cooking, and when I got old enough to experiment. Fast forward a bit, and I lost both my folks in their mid-fifties. Among many things, it led me to wonder whether diet helped three of my grandparents live between 30 and 40 years longer than their children.

My grandma Winifred used to cook chicken kiev alright, but she made it from scratch. A trip to Sainsbury’s cafe was such a horror she even wrote me a letter: “I think it was scampi (a sort of shrimp, did you say?).” When Winifred died, she left behind a well-used handwritten journal entitled Ration Recipes, with over 300 recipes for everything from economical hors d’oeuvres to margarine-laden bakes.

My paternal grandma wasn’t of the same mould. When she died, her freezer was stocked with monochrome meals; her cupboards with corroded, even exploding tins of processed meat. Still, wartime austerity may have had a positive impact on her too; she lived to 88.

I don’t need to look very far to consider the impact of poor diet. I lost my father and godmother to colon cancer and there is diabetes in my partner’s family. Something extreme needs to be done to help us make healthier food choices, and I wonder whether ‘choice’ is partly to blame. We seem compelled to make our dietary decisions more complex. It’s not just nutritional info; we consider price, origin and ethics.

I read a Cambridge University study recently, predicting that carbon emissions from meat consumption alone will create climate catastrophe by 2050. The authors advise eating no more than two portions of red meat a week, but it’s not even that simple. On greenrationbook.com I read tomatoes produce more CO2 emissions than pork; this is all confusing, and I haven’t even touched on food waste.

Additional EU food-labelling legislation arrives in December. Will we soon be checking everything from sat fats to CO2e? Increasing the amount of information we must consume doesn’t stop manufacturers peddling empty calories or people from buying too much; eating is emotional.

The way ahead is surely to make choices straightforward. Prescribe people a fixed amount of convenience products and make whole foods tax exempt. Ration shit, not staples.

Of course, processed food has a place. Where would it have left Mum if pre-made meals were banned? Still, a rationing system could help keep sales of processed food within sensible limits. Harder restrictions could be imposed on those with poor nutritional value or even those with more than five ingredients, which author Michael Pollan says we should avoid.

Because, if we ration processed and high-waste foods – including pesto and £10 Meals for Two – maybe our food choices can revert from being complex, to creative.

Read Viva Brighton in full online here.

More on this topic:
Could rationing hold the key to today’s food crisis? Zoe Williams, The Guardian
When I read about food waste, I long for the return of rationing. Michele Hanson, The Guardian
Should we bring back rationing? Finlo Rohrer, BBC News

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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2 comments on “Viva Brighton #1: Ration Shit, Not Staples

  1. October 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Eyeliner and pinny, gorgeous you, and all you say is true. x

    • October 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Photo was taken ten years ago but I’m trying to keep that on the down! Thanks Kate xxx

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