Could we stomach a return to a wartime diet?
As our population grows, and world food prices escalate, the UK will need to produce more food. But will that mean a return to a more restricted diet, reminiscent of wartime, when reduced imports made Britain rely heavily on homegrown food?
Before World War II, two-thirds of British food was imported from abroad. As the war began, enemy ships blocked many of the supplies that Britain had relied on, including fruit, sugar, cereals and meat.
Campaigns like Dig For Victory encouraged the nation to grow its own food, and in towns and cities, allotment numbers rose. But it was the farmers who made the biggest difference. In the countryside an agricultural revolution began as farmers swiftly doubled homegrown food production.
What Churchill ate
- Oysters and roast venison with mushrooms featured on his menu
- His wartime dinners were washed down with champagne
- Dessert was ice cream with raspberries, followed by apples, grapes and walnuts
During the 1930s cheap cereal crops imported from the US and Canada meant British farmers could no longer compete, so instead of growing crops they concentrated on livestock, like pigs and cows.
But as part of the war effort farmers were ordered to plough up fields, sow crops and increase harvests. Produce was then handed over to local government groups for distribution. It was a well-planned, well-executed, national operation.
Dr Chris Williams, lecturer in history at The Open University, says WWII was a turning point for agriculture. "We went from five million tonnes of potatoes per year at the start of the war to 10 million tonnes by the end of the war."
Farmers ploughed up 6.5 million acres of unused land - a combined area bigger than the whole of Wales.
And though the nation became sick of potatoes, this efficient "make do and mend" model of production is something the food industry could learn from, Dr Williams says.
During the war, homegrown vegetables were the staple diets of many households, as meat, dairy products and sugar became scarce.
Historian Ruth Goodman, one of the participants in BBC Two's Wartime Farm, says people living in the countryside had certain advantages during rationing - because they could forage for whatever they could find, in the hedgerows and fields.
"Townies came off a lot worse during the war - in the countryside you've got so many more resources at your fingertips. Mushrooms, acorns, chestnuts, blackberries."
The amount of homegrown food produced has "plateaued in recent years", says Phil Hudson, head of food and farming at the National Farming Union. He attributes this largely to a lack of investment in agriculture, and the relatively low incomes farmers receive.
Life on a wartime farm
He is calling for more research and development to get the most out of our farmland, which is becoming increasingly scarce as urban developments encroach on agricultural land.
Food policy expert Prof Tim Lang says consumers are also partly to blame, as "they are being allowed the fantasy that they can eat what they like".
Our ever-expanding palates have become accustomed to exotic, imported foods not available in the UK, not to mention an abundance of meat and dairy products.
Animals must consume, on average, 3kg of grain to produce 1kg of meat. Today half of all cereals produced are used to feed animals. They are "the most wasteful and inefficient converters of food which one can imagine," argues Prof Lang, who is also a former government advisor on food policy.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), all of the world's cereal fed to animals could feed the additional three billion people expected by 2050. The UNEP suggests animals could instead be fed recycled waste.
"Instead of aspiring to eat more meat and dairy as people get richer, we should aspire to eat more diverse plants," says Prof Lang. But he says the government is failing to "take a lead" on changing the policy around what farmers should produce.
"It's perfectly possible to be more self-sufficient. As we can see from World War II, it could happen very quickly, but only because the infrastructure was put in. Grants and systems of subsidies were created for farming to be profitable."
Try your own war recipes
In a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Farming Minister Jim Paice said:
"With our increasingly hungry world every country must play its part to produce more food and improve the environment... Whether it means embracing new farming technology or people wasting less, we've got to become more sustainable."
However, Prof Tim Benton, UK champion for global food security, says Britain should stick to producing what it is good at and import the rest.
A lot of what we would consider staple food, such as tomatoes, are not naturally grown in the UK. It would require more energy to grow tomatoes here than the costs involved to import them which "doesn't make sense in a global market", he says.
"Becoming more self-sufficient in food would mean we have to replace more of what we are used to eating on a daily basis."