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The Ministry of Food sez: Potatoes are fattening

I just finished Bernard Crick’s wonderful 1980 biography of George Orwell. Lots of great stuff. Here’s something from page 434:

Just before they moved to Mortimer Crescent [in 1942], Eileen [Orwell’s wife] changed jobs. She now worked in the Minstry of Food preparing recipes and scripts for ‘The Kidchen Front’, which the BBC broadcast each morning. These short programmes were prepared in the Ministry because it was a matter of Government policy to urge or restrain the people from eating unrationed foods according to their official estimates, often wrong, of availability. It was the time of the famous ‘Potatoes are Good For You’ campaign, with its attendant Potato Pie recipes, which was so successful that another campaign had to follow immediately: ‘Potatoes are Fattening’.

Crick continues,

Many features of the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty Four owe as much to Eileen’s experiences in the Ministry of Food, particularly the snappy slogans, as to George’s in the BBC Far Easter Service. The Orwells never suffered from a shortage of potatoes, for they occasionally went down to Wallington at weekends to their vegetable patch which they kept going without regard to the dialectics of the official line.

There was another amusing food-related anecdote on page 207:

His niece, Jane, remembers an almost legendary family journey for a weekend in a cottage on the Yorkshire moors. They had a goat. She thinks it was because her sister had difficulty retaining food as a baby, and somebody thought goat’s milk would help.

I love that: you want goat’s milk, you go get yourself a goat.


  1. Martin Ternouth says:

    In 1947, whilst Orwell was working on 1984, the UK appointed a Minister for Tobacco whose task it was to ensure that cigarette producion was increased to meet the demands of the consumers.

  2. paulse says:

    I remember reading a Slate column a while back that provided a reason for why British food is so bad. It had to do with the country being perpetually at war and having to ration foodstuffs. People just became used to whatever was available, and never thought they could get anything better. This anecdote seems to convey the point pretty well.

  3. Bob O'H says:

    paulse – did Slate discuss how often the French were at war? I don't think they were any more peaceful than the English: after all, we were mostly fighting them (or occasionally – horror of horrors – along side them).

    I think the food quality os more to do with the climate: the range of foods is relatively poor. It may also be that the English are not as intersted in food as other nations: my guess is because we don't use meal times for our social activities so much. And I'll claim that that's because of the superior quality of our beer. :-)

    To get back to the original point, allotments were a part of the English culture: a vegetable patch, and perhaps a shed. The cliche is that the man goes to his allotment to get away from his wife's nagging, and to help the Minister for Tobacco with his production quotas.