Tuesday, 2 November 2010

"We must plough up the land" - Winston Churchill

My last posting 'Mind the carrot...etc' ended by asking what would be the impact if 100,000 people in London started growing their own fruit and vegetables?
To find out, I embarked on a quick sortie to the Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in Kennington, south London.
The 'Dig for Victory' artefacts on display unearthed (sorry, pardon the pun) some juicy statistics. 
For instance, six million British families grew their own vegetables during World War II. 
The number of allotments rose from 850,000 in 1939 to 1,750,000 by 1943.
Allotments sprouted (oops!) in unlikely places, such as around Queen Victoria's precious Albert Memorial in Hyde Park (see photo). 
Vegetable production increased by 55% during the war. Potato output rocketed up 80%.
One million British households kept chickens, geese and turkeys in 1943. 
Over 100,000 people joined 4,000 registered pig clubs. These produced 6,000 tons of meat per year - enough bacon for 150 million breakfasts.
Such sizzling stats, of course, reflect Britain's wartime fear of mass starvation.
The Andalucia Star was just one of hundreds of food-carrying merchant ships sunk during the conflict.Tons of Argentinian meat and eggs bound for Britain cascaded into the Atlantic when a German U-Boat torpedoed and sunk the Andalucia Star - my grandfather Les' former merchant navy cargo vessel - in October 1942.

"We must plough up the land," urged Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Manchester on 27 January, 1940. 
'Dig for Victory' and the Ministry of Food succeeded in keeping Britain fed during the war. 

Today's emergencies might not brandish a swastika or fire torpedoes but rising oil and food prices, financial turmoil and junk food diets all menace us from various directions. 
Maybe, we'll have to grow more of our own food in the twenty-first century.
But will we have enough land?

Image: Imperial War Museum

Paul Coleman, London, November 2010

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