Anyone who thinks at all about food systems or food security is aware that the food we eat comes from sources around the world and that changes taking place on the other side of the planet can make a difference to our food supply in Canada.
Awareness of the global nature of our food supply has grown recently, but we sometimes forget that, although the phenomenon has been building to new extremes recently, humans have moved food products around the world for centuries.
Think, for example, of trade in spices across the Silk Road that began centuries ago.
One of the factors that has an impact on food supply is war.
It can affect the food supply of those living in the war zone, as well as in faraway countries with military involvement.
Food was rationed for civilians in Europe and the U.K. during the Second World War, and rationing also took place in Canada during that time.
I’ve heard many stories about the food shortages that occurred and rationing that was implemented in the United Kingdom and Europe during the Second World War.
I knew less about the changes in the food supply closer to home.
Ian Mosby studies and teaches about the history of food and nutrition. His essay, Food on the Home Front during the Second World War, is posted at http://wartimecanada.ca.
I’ll share some of his findings here, and suggest that you read his article for a more detailed account.
The government took steps to influence what was grown on Canadian farms and what was cooked in Canadian kitchens, so it could feed Canada’s soldiers and supplement the food available to our Allies.
They encouraged farmers to grow more of what was needed for the troops and the people at home to consume more of the foods, such as apples and lobster, whose export markets had dried up because of the war. Mosby refers to an article in the Canadian Home Journal entitled It’s Patriotic and Pleasant to eat Canadian Lobster.
At its peak, in 1941, Canadian exports made up 77 per cent of the wheat and flour consumed in Britain. Large amounts of bacon, eggs, evaporated milk and cheese were also exported.
School children and women by the thousands worked as farm labourers in Ontario and British Columbia to fill the gaps in the agricultural work force at home.
It was considered patriotic to help feed the troops in this way and to prepare relief packages of food, such as Jam for Britain, through the Red Cross, Women’s Institutes and other organizations.
Making the best use of the food that was available at home became important.
People were encouraged to learn home canning, through the extension work of the Department of Agriculture, as a means of conserving the food that was available.
Citizens were also encouraged to conserve fat and bones, not to meet nutritional needs but to use in the production of munitions.
Victory gardens were abundant, as people took pride in producing some of their own food. At one point, in 1944, there were an estimated 209,200 victory gardens producing a total of 57,000 tons of vegetables.
Mosby states that even inexperienced gardeners jumped in, eager to participate in this effort. It is interesting to reflect on how far the pendulum moved in the post-war years, when manufactured food became increasingly popular.
During the war years, the government began to emphasize healthy eating and good nutrition as priorities, and it was during this time that they first published Canada’s Official Food Rules, the first version of what has evolved into Canada’s Food Guide.
Eat right, feel right — Canada needs you strong! was the patriotic slogan attached to the first set of Food Rules.
As much as the Food Rules may have influenced what people ate, perhaps rationing had a greater influence.
After a universal price freeze was implemented in Canada in December 1941, rationing of sugar began in July 1942, rationing of tea, coffee and butter later that year, and rationing of meat the next year.
Rationing was intended to ensure that the limited supplies of these foods would be distributed fairly to the population.
Recipes were developed during wartime to help people make the best use of the foods that were available to them, including many versions of the popular War Cake, made with hot water, brown sugar, lard, raisins, flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves, sparing white sugar, butter, candied fruit and eggs.
The interesting thing is that, in spite of rationing, many Canadians — both military and civilian — ate more and better during the war than they had during the previous decade.
The two pounds of meat per person per week permitted under wartime rationing, combined with access to what was available, off-ration, in restaurants and elsewhere, amounted to more than what many Canadians had access to during the Depression and per capita consumption of nearly every nutrient increased during the war.
This Sunday, on Remembrance Day, Canadians will pause to reflect on the experiences and effects of war.
I have no doubt that people who lived through the Second World War, either as civilians or soldiers, will reminisce about how they had to change the way that they ate as part of their wartime experience.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, Wednesday. She welcomes comments from readers, as well as suggestions for future columns. She can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by sending her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.