First World War
A First World War
government leaflet detailing the consequences of breaking the rationing laws.
In line with its business as usual policy during the First World War, the government was initially reluctant to try to control the food markets. It fought off attempts to introduce minimum prices in cereal production, though relenting in the area of control of essential imports (sugar, meat, and grains). When it did introduce changes, they were limited. In 1916, it became illegal to consume more than two courses while lunching in a public eating place or more than three for dinner; fines were introduced for members of the public found feeding the pigeons or stray animals.
In January 1917, Germany started unrestricted submarine warfare to try to starve Britain into submission. To meet this threat, voluntary rationing was introduced in February 1917. Bread was subsidised from September that year; prompted by local authorities taking matters into their own hands, compulsory rationing was introduced in stages between December 1917 and February 1918 as Britain's supply of wheat decreased to just six weeks' worth. To help the process, ration books were introduced in July 1918 for butter, margarine, lard, meat, and sugar. For the most part, rationing benefited the health of the country. During the war, average energy intake decreased by only 3%, but protein intake by 6%.