Dig for Britain

25th April 2008 at 01:00
The man who masterminded wartime rationing has inspired a new resource to help youngsters learn about nutrition, diet and health today. John Dabell chews it over

The man who masterminded wartime rationing has inspired a new resource to help youngsters learn about nutrition, diet and health today. John Dabell chews it over


Food is plentiful in the UK today and supersizing and obesity are commonplace. But what would John Boyd Orr think of it all? The Nobel Prize winner was the original food crusader, and his research into nutrition - the first to link diet with health - underpinned the Second World War rationing system in Britain. He was way ahead of contemporary thinking and concluded that rationing should be based on individual nutritional needs.

Now he is resurrected, via an actor, to discuss his work on a DVD called RATIONal Food, in which the process of devising and implementing the rationing system are explored through a series of video diaries.

On the film, Years 5 and 6 from Monymusk Primary School in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, debate whether certain members of the wartime society should have extra rations, role playing doctors, soldiers, pregnant women and even Sir Winston Churchill. They are shocked at how little food there was and that foods like potatoes were not rationed.

Two pupils suggest that a mother of three requires extra rations because she will need the energy to look after her children. Some of the class disagree, saying that a soldier or builder would need more because they work harder.

One youngster argues cleverly that if a farmer didn't get extra, he wouldn't be able to provide the food for others to eat the basic ration.

A class vote is held in the style of TV's Ready, Steady, Cook, with pupils holding up a voting card of oranges, which were rationed, for a "yes" vote; and cabbages, which were not rationed, for a "no" vote. It's clear that pupils enjoy this voting system and take their decisions seriously.

"What makes a good ration?" is a question John Boyd Orr poses in another video clip and pupils are asked to classify foods according to whether they would have included them in the ration.

Two boys agree that people in the Forties would have had margarine in a ration, with one saying: "I heard of that in Dad's Army (the popular TV series)". Other discussions centre around whether people would have had pizza, fresh orange juice, tuna, cakes, bacon, sugar and coconut.

Pupils are also asked to debate how a food rationing system would work for the way we live today. This requires them to think creatively and solve problems together.

It also gets them to think about so-called "good" and "bad" foods and the way in which certain foods have been demonised. For example, chips are often seen as a villainous food but not all chips are high in fat and can provide a useful source of vitamin C. This helps them realise that there aren't "bad" foods, just bad diets.

RATIONal Food book and DVD, by Sue Bird and Lorna Saunders, is published by Millgate House Publishers, price pound;25, www.millgatehouse.co.uk. The DVD is a joint venture between the Rowett Research Institute and Millgate House Publishers.

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