The Ministry of Food Exhibition at The Imperial War Museum

Seventy years ago the wartime government announced the introduction of food rationing – a control that was to remain in force for the next fourteen years. To mark this event Imperial War Museum London is opening The Ministry of Food, a major new exhibition to show how the British public adapted to a world of food shortages by ‘Lending a Hand on the Land’, ‘Digging for Victory’, taking up the ‘War on Waste’, and being both frugal and inventive on the ‘Kitchen Front’. Visitors will discover that growing your own food, eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, reducing imports, recycling and healthy nutrition were just as topical in 1940 as they are today. Open through 3 January 2011.

Among the exhibition’s special features are a wartime greenhouse, a 1940s grocer’s shop, and a typical kitchen complete with larder, gas cooker, and an ample stock of economy recipes, including the original Savoy Hotel recipe for Woolton Pie. Visitors will be able to listen to advice on gardening from the BBC’s Mr Middleton, on nutrition from the Radio Doctor, Dr Charles Hill, and on cooking from Marguerite Patten, a nutritionist with the Ministry of Food who broadcast Kitchen Front updates during the war. Further tips will be provided in a selection of the Ministry of Food’s Food Flashes films; each one of which was seen by a wartime audience of 20 million; and on posters that reminded the public that a ‘Clear Plate Means a Clear Conscience’, and exhorted people to save kitchen scraps for the communal pig bin and to ‘Eat More Greens’.

The exhibition will explore the story of food from farms, gardens and docks, to shops, kitchens, and canteens. Visitors will learn how overseas imports were drastically cut and how British agriculture had to dramatically increase production to feed the nation, with help from the Women’s Land Army, prisoners of war and those who volunteered at Farming Holiday Camps. Tips to make the most of your vegetable garden or allotment could be as relevant for today’s green-fingers as they were in the 1940s and visitors can discover how lawns and window boxes were transformed into vegetable plots and how allotments holders more than doubled.

The rationing scheme, overseen by the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, ensured fair shares for all and The Ministry of Food exhibition will show how the health of the young was improved thanks to nutritional supplements and advice, and how the housewife played a central role in adapting to new foods, from dried eggs to Spam. The exhibition also highlights how communal eating significantly increased to meet the needs of bombed out families, factory workers and school children and how, after the victory celebrations, austerity Britain survived even greater hardships until the ration books were finally torn up on 4 July 1954.

The exhibition pays tribute to the men, women and children who played their part in the story of wartime food – from the 30,000 members of the Merchant Navy who were killed during the course of the war to the dockers, lorry drivers and bargees who transported goods across the country and the housewives who patiently queued when scarce resources reached the shops. Visitors can find out how the Women’s Institute staffed six thousand Preservation Centres to make jams and pickles and how the Women’s Voluntary Service’s mobile canteens provided emergency sustenance to rescuers and the homeless after air raids.

Diane Lees, Director-General, Imperial War Museum, says:

‘Concerns around cutting down waste and making the most of local, seasonal food were at the forefront for those involved in feeding the nation during the Second World War. We hope the stories of resourcefulness and commitment shown in Ministry of Food will not only allow people to understand more about how the country changed its eating habits, grew more food and imported less, during the Second World War but should also provide some food for thought about the way we live and eat now.’

Mike Lucy, Founder and Chief Executive of Company of Cooks, says:

‘There aren’t many opportunities to sponsor a partner’s special exhibition with such similar values to our own. When we first heard about The Ministry of Food and the Museum’s proposal to examine Britain’s messages about the production, distribution and consumption of food in times of scarcity we were keen to be involved. It will be one of London’s finest, most appealing and most socially relevant special exhibition for years in my opinion. We have been using seasonal, quality ingredients to create honest food concepts with the minimum of waste since 1996. We will be re-enforcing these messages by supporting Imperial War Museum London in their educational events programme which will include cookery demonstrations, family events and a Wartime Farm.’

Adults £4.95, Concessions and Groups £3.95, Children £2.50, Family £13.00 (Groups pre-booking essential on 020 7416 5439 or [email protected])

Imperial War Museum London will also be launching a blog to accompany the exhibition. It will feature archive film clips, posters and leaflets from the Museum’s Collections, as well as posts from guest contributors. There will also be the chance to see what happens behind the scenes as the exhibition is created. People can pick up gardening and cooking advice from the 1940s, try out some tips from the original Ministry of Food and share their own ideas for resourceful recipes.
Visit or