During the first week of my challenge, I ate a LOT of potatoes. As one of my few ‘free’ foods, they’ve basically formed the basis of most of my meals so far, including breakfast, for which I’ve been eating the delightfully named ‘Fadge’ – a sort of griddled potato cake a bit like a hash brown (much, much tastier than the name suggests).
As a Catholic of Irish descent, I didn’t think I had a limit for potato eating – the last roastie is always what gets fought over in our family. But by day 4 I woke up feeling slightly queasy at the thought of another round of Fadge, so I switched to water based porridge instead and sprinkled a bit of my sugar ration onto the top. Who knew that grey mush would feel like such a treat!
So far the thing I’m noticing the most is a radical cut back on choice. As a very spoilt westerner, my biggest struggle is that every meal is a variation on the same few ingredients. This was never going to be a starvation diet, and I’ve definitely got enough to eat. But it is bringing home powerfully that as soon as food is scarce, choice becomes a luxury. It’s also a luxury to complain about not having choice, so I’ll leave that there for now.
I’m also finding the sugar ration an interesting one. As sugar beet was a big crop in Britain during wartime, the weekly ration of 8oz is pretty generous. Certainly to me it looked like the biggest bit of food in the ration box. Unfortunately, because I don’t have sugar on tea and tend not to have it in cereal (although I’ve appreciated it on my porridge, without the extra sweetness of milk!), it’s not a whole lot of use to me. With so little milk and butter and virtually no egg, I’d need to save up my weekly and monthly rations of everything else to do what I’d normally do with that much sugar – which is bake with it.
I think this is where living on rations as a family could be of an advantage. Mums in World War 2 could combine their family rations to make them go further. A lot of families, for example, registered one child as vegetarian to get a bigger cheese ration, so between the whole family they could eke out the meat and cheese a bit better. I love this resourcefulness, which comes through in so many of the recipes and stories I’ve found about this period. It’s something I need to learn from, because the net result is so little waste.
If you have a restricted but adequate diet, a bit of savvy housekeeping will help you feed your family. Marguerite Patten OBE, who wrote many of the recipes for the ministry of food and agriculture during WW2 and beyond, says of wartime food “Our menus may have been monotonous, but both adults and children were incredibly healthy.”
But here’s the rub: for Rose in Kenya, and thousands of mothers like her around the world, no amount of kitchen canniness will stretch the food for the whole family. There just isn’t enough to go round. So mothers have an entirely different choice to make. They have to choose which of their children get to eat today – and generally go hungry themselves.
There’s a severe hunger crisis in our world. But it’s not because we don’t produce enough. Families go hungry, because food supplies are no longer based on what every human needs to be healthy, and are instead based on profit and loss. And meanwhile those of us who have much, have too much.
I don’t think I’d quite realised how much I rely on being able to grab any food I want, whenever I need to. As a result, I usually forget my lunch for work at least 4 days out of 5, and buy a baguette or something, while my salad or soup slowly goes off in the fridge at home.
Now suddenly, as I’m thinking of new and exciting things to do with potatoes and leeks, I’m feeling so grateful that I live in this world of choice – but also something like embarrassment. How could I look Rose, who nearly lost her daughter Tabita to malnutrition, and explain how much I throw away, just through sheer disorganisation?
If I take away anything from this challenge, it’s this: there absolutely is enough food for all of us. But food, like any other resource, needs to be approached with respect, moderation and common sense.
We all have choices to make. Some of those choices are life and death, and others are a luxury. But we can choose to end this injustice – that’s a choice we can all get behind. If you, like me, want all children to grow up with choices and opportunities, then please sign our Hungry for Change petition, and support our Lent appeal.
We’re not stuck with the system we have. We can choose justice for everyone.
Claud Mba has worked in CAFOD’s digital communications team for three years. She lives with her husband in Kent and is a lifelong supporter of CAFOD’s work. This Lent she’s putting her love of 1940s style and culture to the test: getting sponsored to live on 1943 UK rations, in solidarity with people who don’t have enough to eat around the world.
You can read more about Claud’s challenge and sponsor her here: http://www.justgiving.com/claudonrations