Monday 24 October 2016

Post-war Britons ate four meals a day and grew half their food, records show

Published 01/09/2016 | 00:11

Defra publishes the oldest versions of the National Food Survey spanning back to the 1940s
Defra publishes the oldest versions of the National Food Survey spanning back to the 1940s

Britons in the 1950s ate four meals a day and grew more than half of their food themselves, newly-published official records show.

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Defra has published the oldest versions of the National Food Survey spanning back to the 1940s, when Britain was controlled by rationing and families ate seasonally and bought food from butchers, bakers and grocers rather than supermarkets.

About a third of the household income was spent on food in 1940 compared to 12% now.

The information, compiled from family diaries detailing their weekly food and drink purchases, show that nearly half of all households never ate outside the home in 1952 and just one fifth ate one dinner a week out.

In the 1950s, salmon sandwiches, tinned fruit with evaporated milk, fish on Fridays and ham salad for high tea every Sunday were frequent features of the family menu.

People ate four meals a day and relied on gardens and allotments to grow more than double the amount of food they bought, the diaries reveal.

But by the mid-1950s easy-to-prepare meals were becoming popular, with convenience foods accounting for nearly a fifth of family spending on food.

By the 1960s, frozen peas had grown in popularity and the consumption of flour started to fall.

As more women entered the workplace, frozen foods, ready meals and takeaways began to transform the British diet.

Convenience food reached a new level of popularity in the 1970s as more families could afford fridges and freezers, with 95% owning a fridge by the end of the decade.

By 1983, the average person ate three meals a week outside of the home.

The data also shows that the person filling out the questionnaire was no longer described as a "housewife" in 1991 and instead became known as the "main diary keeper".

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: "This is more than just cosy nostalgia - everyone now has access to this hoard of rich data which shows how technology and social change have transformed our diets over five generations.

"While foodie fads have come and gone, it's interesting to have seen a recent revival of fresh, British grown, seasonal foods - though today it is through choice, unlike the necessity of the '40s and '50s.

"Our Great British Food campaign is all about championing British produce, at home and abroad, and highlighting the exciting and diverse regional cuisine all around the country.

"It's also about backing our world-leading food and farming industry that already generates £100 billion for our economy and employs one in eight people.

"In my role as Environment Secretary I will be doing all I can to make sure the industry goes from strength to strength."

The records are published on the Defra website.

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