Collected Journalism

The Time the Government Tried to Feed Everybody


This piece appeared on the BBC News Magazine in July 2015.

Public canteens were set up to feed people during World War One Рand they proved hugely popular. Could their success a century ago offer any lessons for food banks today?

These self-service restaurants, run by local workers and partly funded by government grants, offered simple meals at subsidised prices.

A bowl of soup, a joint of meat and a portion of side vegetables cost 6d – just over ¬£1 in today’s money. Puddings, scones and cakes could be bought for as little as 1d (about 18p).

In 1917, ministers in Lloyd George’s government had agonised over the best way of combating hunger while Germany’s U-boats disrupted Britain’s food supply.

The government was keen to avoid the stigma of poverty associated with soup kitchen hand-outs, but also wanted to utilise the volunteer-run community kitchens springing up in working class communities to help deal with food shortages.

A popular fix was found – a network of public cafeteria known as “national kitchens”.

The Ministry of Food instructed that the kitchens “must not resemble a soup kitchen for poorest section of society”. They should feel like places “ordinary people in ordinary circumstances” could sit down together at long canteen tables for a cheap meal.

Now there are efforts to bring them back.

Read on at BBC News Magazine…

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