Time to reintroduce national kitchens

Since the outbreak of the CoronaVirus I have been in conversation with many people (via Twitter, email etc) about my research on wartime public feeding.

Many of these brilliant people take a far more active role than me in feeding people / nudging policy, but I’ve been an advocate of a better public feeding system for a while now, and now more than ever this is a priority.

Here’s how we can do it by learning from history:

But hang on, social distancing makes the large communal dining schemes of the war impossible now, right?

Yes, but the public feeding schemes of WW1 and WW2 weren’t exclusively about long-table dining.

They also pioneered the UberEats / deliveroo / meals on wheels type model.

I won’t drone on about the history, but here’s the point:

  • National Kitchens (WW1) and British Restaurants (WW2) are the best example of emergency feeding in recent British history.
  • They ran by central government providing ‘start up’ loans to local councils, who sourced sites and appointed a paid staff and manager for each.
  • Crucially, they offered cheap and healthy food – needed now more than ever in the context of panic buying, black marketeering etc. They had to adhere to a maximum price structure and offer meals that met nutritional standards.
  • This was not some sort of Soviet-style top-down drab dystopian vision. Sure, central government needs to provide the initial cash. But they were more of a national collaborative effort which involved nutritionists, local volunteers, and also much input from the retail trade (forms like Marks and Spencer etc).
  • The communal dining model is impossible now but the other model they used is viable – i.e. food prepared in big kitchens (schools, often) by trained staff (cleanliness and sanitation a priority), then distributed via courier system – vans, trams, and even (in the BLitz) underground trains.
  • The best way to replicate this today would be to utilise school kitchens to produce safe food in a controlled environment, food then transferred to van and motorcycle couriers (like UberEats etc) and delivered to the homes of the most vulnerable people.

Time, now more than ever, for the return of this form of public feeding.

Re-establish the Ministry of Food, and let’s get the ball rolling.

 

 

 

 

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Review of Peter Hennessy’s ‘Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties’, Irish Times, 12 October 2019

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October 18, 2019 · 1:00 pm

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library fellowship

I have been awarded a Harry S. Truman Presidential Library research fellowship by the Committee on Research, Scholarship and Education of the Harry S. Truman Library Institute, Missouri, USA.
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The Truman Library was the first of the thirteen presidential libraries in the United States of America. It is the library and resting place of Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), the 33rd President of the United States.
Truman – US President from 1945 to 1953 – most controversially sanctioned the use of nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945 but is also famous for implementing the Marshall Plan and establishing NATO; in 2006 Kofi Annan gave his final speech as United Nations Secretary General at the Truman Library, urging that the world return to Truman’s multilateral vision.
I have been awarded the grant for research on my forthcoming book on the history of food and aviation at the Library, and I visit in December.

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Pan American Research Grant into the history of Airline Food

I am honoured to have been awarded the annual Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan American Research Grant for research in the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection at the University of Miami Libraries Special Collections in Coral Gables, Florida.

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The grant, generously provided by the Pan Am Historical Foundation, honours two of Pan Am’s most avid historians, Dave Abrams and Gene Banning. Abrams, a University of Miami graduate, joined Pan American Airways and worked for forty-two years as a meteorologist, navigator, and Director of Flight Operations for Latin America. He was instrumental in the formation of the Pan Am Historical Foundation after the company shut its doors in 1991, and in finding a home for the Pan Am’s archives and memorabilia. Banning was one of the longest serving pilots for Pan Am. His aviation days started with the infamous flying boats in 1941 and ended with Boeing 747s in 1978. An avid researcher, Banning was a guiding member of the Pan Am Historical Foundation from its inception and the author of Airlines of Pan American since 1927.

The grant has been awarded since 2008, and has resulted in a variety of articles, theses-related work, book chapters, and a wide array of research projects. As this year’s award winner, I will receive $1,500 to support my scholarly research using the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection. As part of this year’s award, Special Collections will be hosting an Abrams-Banning grant talk, an opportunity for me to share my research and discoveries to interested scholars and community members and answer questions about the project.

The Project: Pan Am, A Gastronomic History

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People today are generally dismissive of airplane food but, at the same time, ignorant of its history.

Pan-Am, once the largest international air carrier in the world, performed a pioneering role in airline food service.

Nostalgia for Pan-Am’s distinctive food service is now such that a Los Angeles film studio hosts a retro dinner on a stage set up to look like a Pan Am double-decker 747 at which patrons divest themselves of upwards of $200 to dine ‘airline’!

But this gourmet glamour was underpinned by both serious science and attention to the detail of fine dining culture.

Food tastes differ at high altitudes and in low humidity the sense of smell is less acute and the scent sharper; dryness of air and low air pressure ensures our taste buds are hindered, rendering seasoned dishes bland. Pan-Am led the way in scientific innovation around these problems, while maintaining high class dining rituals.

This research project explores the changing science and culture attached to food during Pan Am’s global reign, providing the first serious academic study to highlight the company’s gastronomic history.

Before the serious stuff starts I’ll also be checking out the TV series (below) for a few initial pointers!

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Images from Nottingham National Kitchen, 16 June 2017

My national project to rediscover the public feeding schemes of 100 years ago hit the road again last Friday, when over 100 people in Nottingham were fed for free from a menu 100 years old. We had a jazz band, we had music hall numbers, we dressed up and danced and ate. And all in a stunning Victorian venue designed by renowned architect Watson Fothergill http://www.watsonfothergill.co.uk/

The idea is to highlight how social eating is superior to the basic food bank model and how we can learn a lot from how the government did things 100 years ago. So we fed 100 people food from 100 years ago, including period dishes ‘wet nelly’ and ‘trench cake’.

The local television coverage of the evening is accessible here: https://nottstv.com/programme/social-eating-experiment-takes-locals-back-world-war-one-19-06-17/

The point was to rediscover social eating in an area of nottingham (St Anne’s) with a high food bank dependency and a very diverse demographic. The event was held in the city’s Pakistan Community Centre and involved some fairly diverse groups of people including a choir for children with special needs. We teamed up with Marsha Smith of Super Kitchen and ‘Pulp Friction’ (a Nottingham-based charity for young adults with learning disabilities) and the floor was run by Hospitality guru Dr Clay Gransden, ensuring the night provided an opportunity for young adults with learning disabilities to learn transferable skills for the industry (front of house, table service etc).

The entire project has now been nominated for the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Award 2017 and so was judged on the evening by Professor John Tosh (Royal Historical Society).

All the below images are reproduced by kind permission of Richard Mowberry:

 

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Britain goes to the polls this Thursday, to mark #GE2017 I’m talking ELECTION CAKE on #r4today on Thursday morning. #foodforthemany

https://www.academia.edu/33356782/The_Changing_Shape_of_Election_Cake

 

The above is a link to a piece of research I undertook last year – during the US Presidential election – when placed on a research fellowship in the idyllic Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware, USA.

It’s all about election cake – a New England cake traditionally baked at election time, a large fruit cake, often boozy, which historically served a civic function in sustaining voters at the polls.

The article includes historic recipes for anyone wishing to bake an election cake to mark the crucial UK election this Thursday – but make sure you have enough people to help you eat it, for the election cakes of yore were enormous.

Britain votes this Thursday in a crucial election and I am delighted to have been asked onto BBC’s flagship radio news show, the Today programme on Radio 4, to chat about election cake on Thursday morning.

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John Lewis Kimmel, Election Day 1815 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1815), Winterthur collection.

If you can’t tune in on Thursday morning at c. 8:50am GMT, the below links to a video I recorded with the Washington Post about the same topic last year.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/lifestyle/food/were-almost-at-election-day-what-america-needs-right-now-is-a-slice-of-delicious-cake/2016/11/05/1fd44622-a2d7-11e6-8864-6f892cad0865_video.html

Everyone loves a bit of cake and I have fond memories of Winterthur librarian Laura Parrish baking a delicious election cake, which we nibbled over tea, quite sure that Donald Trump would never get in. How wrong we were.

I hope that people listen in to Radio 4 this Thursday where they will be sampling the cake in studio: I also hope that the piece inspires people to get out there and vote …

Below are some heritage recipes if you fancy cooking a good ol’ election cake (all courtesy and copyright of Winterthur Museum, DE, USA):

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Photographs from #WW1 national kitchens event

Thanks to my successful bid to the AHRC’s Gateways to the First World War research fund the social eating schemes of 100 years ago – national kitchens – are reborn!

Long forgotten, these communal dining projects were vital to the British war effort in the conflict’s latter stages.

I’m recreating them not in a spirit of jingoism, but one of critical reflection on approaches to food poverty today.

I will be recreating these events across Britain so if you are a community group / charity and are interested, please contact me.

A selection of images from the first event are available here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/liverpoolhopeuniversity/sets/72157680057800601/with/33596912142/

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