My grandmother, Nana Iris, lived through World War Two, in Newport, Wales. At 13, she left school to keep house for her father who, as a train driver, was frequently away and to care for her younger brother. I often tried to get her to speak of her time growing up, the food stamps and rationing but, unsurprisingly, wartime was not a favourite topic for her. As such, I have enjoyed finding out about life during that time at every opportunity. “The Rations Challenge” by Claud Fullwood would have appealed to me on these grounds alone but my desire to read it increased as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world’s food supply.

In South Africa, our current food shortages are less a production or sourcing problem and more of a logistical problem, much of our food is produced on shore. This is in sharp contrast to the situation Britain found itself in during the war. The book is full of interesting facts about food production in the 1940s such as 70% of food being sourced offshore. The impact of the attacks from the enemy on the supply chain was huge! The rationing system was essential to keep the country fed. In my review of the rations, I realised my problem would have with the lack of eggs, a laying chicken would have been essential to complement the rationed amount but the rest was reasonable and proved to be healthy and filling. It certainly takes planning, measuring and restraint to live off, there is no extravagance allowed. However, there is a great sense of achievement when one reaches the end of the week without exceeding the cheese ration, I can attest to that!

During our lockdown period, nine weeks so far, I have learnt to make four varieties of bread and they taste better than bought! I have learnt to appreciate a menu plan and working with what’s in the cupboard! And I have come to understand why Nana enjoyed butter AND jam on a scone – true luxury when butter is in short supply! The book shares numerous recipes, modernized for easy use, which were made with the ingredients available at the time. I look forward to making my own preserves in the next fruit season.

In addition to the fascinating historical perspective, Claud includes today’s biggest challenge, global warming. She unpacks the impact our food supply has on the environment and how to think globally to preserve nature and protect it’s people. I have looked at my labels afresh to check our sourcing and we are blessed to find the vast majority comes from our local farmers but it is worth being reminded to remain attentive to our impact on the world and cut back where we can.

Designed as a 40 day lent challenge, the book is in a diary format broken into days but I found it too interesting to put down so read it straight through. I will not be sustaining myself on potatoes (the English way through war) but will definitely be applying the principles of consideration, moderation and reduction of waste. There is much to be gained from reflecting on the past and it is particularly apt to be doing that at a time like this! I highly recommend it, it’s a five out of five on the enJOYment scale.

From the back cover:

Food is always a hot topic – Food waste, food banks, food miles, local versus imported. As we all need food, we can’t ignore it.

But as some families struggle without enough food to live on, others are challenged to consider how much they throw away, or how to make the food they have go further.

Which is why Claud Fullwood set herself the challenge of living on World War Two rations for Lent. It opened her eyes not only to issues of hunger and waste, but also to the many ways in which we have the power to fix our groaning food system, make our families stronger and our communities whole again.

The Rations Challenge takes the wisdom of World War Two and looks at how it can help us revolutionise how we live now. By learning the lessons our parents and grandparents lived by in the ’30s and ’40s, we can build a future that works for everyone.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Lion Hudson Ltd through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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