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From Rationing to Plenty

How times have changed. One minute we’re free to go about our daily lives and the next we are obliged to stay at home. But we are not the first generation in living memory to have suffered restrictions as I discovered.

Soap Ration Notice (STMEA:1998-35.3) Photograph: Museum of East Anglian Life

During the Second World War, food and many other consumables, especially those that were imported, were in short supply. To preserve what was available, rationing of certain essentials became a way of life for every household. What must it have been like to survive on 50g of cheese, 6 pence worth of meat and one fresh egg every week? Fast forward 50 years, and we can celebrate a diversity of food and recipes from our local area and around the world. Our collection offers examples of wartime rationing and today’s modern food and drink festivals. I enjoyed finding out about them both through these three objects; Soap Ration Notice, Ministry of Food Recipe Leaflet and Food & Drink Festival Leaflet.

This was a fascinating piece to research. It gave me a chance to reflect on the hardships experienced in wartime contrasting them to our modern relationship with food and drink.

I started to uncover some facts about everyday life during the Second World War. Did people in the country have things easier than those in towns and cities? Contemporary accounts suggest that perhaps they did; although for everyone wartime was certainly a period of “make do and mend”. Gardens and fields were dug up for vegetable production and allotments were in high demand. Nothing was wasted, every scrap of food was used in some way. Alternative foodstuffs were found and recipes created to use whatever was available – even if they were not always greeted with enthusiasm by those who had to eat them!

Perhaps living in the country did have advantages. Aside from having plenty of land for growing fruit and vegetables, there was always the chance of being able to find “a little something off the Ration”, such as a chicken, the odd rabbit or pigeon, a local farmer with eggs to spare etc. Yes, despite the hardships, living in the country at this time could be a blessing.

Just 50 years later and our relationship with food and drink has changed significantly. Everything we may want to eat or drink can often be found under one Supermarket roof. There’s plenty of choice and more than enough to go round for everyone. We hold festivals to celebrate our food and drink, showcasing the best on offer with displays of cooking methods and skills and cookery programmes on TV and social media.  However, one thing is little changed from wartime. Even today, we still like to make use of recipes handed down or devised by celebrity chefs, to show us how to get the most from our food.

We are lucky to have such diversity available to us every day. However, this research has taught me that we should learn from the wartime generation to grow our fruit and vegetables and be less wasteful with what we buy.


  • Richard Hall, Volunteer

You can view Richard’s full research on these objects here.


If you’d like to volunteer with our collection, please email Curator Kate Knowlden at kate.knowlden@eastanglianlife.org.uk

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