Tag Archives: eating

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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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

Image result for pan american airline food

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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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:



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The Adolf Hitler diet: the new foodie trend? #food #diet #fashion #hipster

Whatever about the current excitement over Corbynmania in Britain, there’s no doubt that the hottest political trend over the last few years has been the resurgence of the far right in Europe and beyond.


Whether the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands it seems that being a quasi-fascist is firmly back in vogue.

Quite clearly, this political phenomenon has permeated popular culture. Now I can’t pretend to be up with fashion trends, but if I nip out for a loaf of bread or a pint of milk I’m sometimes so shocked at the haircuts and styles emerging from the barbers or clothes shop that I want to run away and join the nearest resistance cell.


The musician Bryan Ferry once remarked that the Nazis had ‘great style’ and a solitary glance at a pack of stylish young men these days will confirm that fact. Many wouldn’t look out of place in the Third Reich. Take hip London brand ‘Boy’, still favoured by numerous A-listers despite its logo’s unmistakeable similarities to the Nazi Reichsadler.

Then there’s the ascent of the aggressive crew-cut or slicked-back undercut. Although not the exclusive preserve of the right wing, this style is sometimes dubbed the ‘SS cut’ and sported by many a trendy young fella.

But why should this apparent popular homage to national socialism be restricted to the boys? Why should they have all the fun?

When it comes to the girls of today, by contrast, it’s pretty evident that emulating the staid mantra of Kinder, Küche, Kirche associated with Nazism is not cool. At least in the fashion stakes. The wholesome dumpy German housewife look might be indulged in by pretty young things at events like Oktoberfest but outside Bavarian-themed pubs you don’t see it very often as a style choice for the fashion-conscious young woman.

article-0-037C0785000005DC-555_233x343women in Nazi germany

But don’t let this apparent gender disparity fool you!

We all know that dieting is more popular among women than men. And it’s in the arena of the latest cool diets – assisting you in looking your slender youthful best – that the girls give the boys a run for their money in paying seeming homage to the Nazis.

Let me explain … I refer, of course, to the most ‘with it’ dietary fads of today and their unacknowledged debt to – who else? – Adolf Hitler.

Now, one of the most influential role models for diet-conscious young gals today is ‘Deliciously Ella’ – Ella Woodward – who offers recipes sans wheat, meat and sugar. Heard of her? Like Nigella Lawson, she’s the daughter of a fairly right-leaning politician but just check out her website (http://deliciouslyella.com/) and it’s all peace, love and avocadoes and not a hint of Hitler and his dietary dreams.


Then there’s Hemsley and Hemsley (http://www.hemsleyandhemsley.com/) Now they are a couple of slender sisters who basically just eat vegetables. Occasionally, ever so occasionally, meat creeps in. But they’re singing from the same hymn sheet as our Ella.


‘Yeah, OK. I know Hitler was a vegetarian, but what has all this got to do with the Führer?’ I hear you cry. Well, read on …

All these trendy girls are topped by Fully Raw – http://www.fullyraw.com – the creation of Kristina Carrillo-Bucanam, who rid herself of Hyperglycemia at the age of 18 eating nothing but a low fat raw vegan diet consisting solely of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the pinnacle of raw food cool. Of course, Kristina’s recipe ideas are confined to the realm of gazpachos, smoothies and salads. Cooking, she claims, destroys nutrients, “denatures the proteins, carcinogizes the fats, and caramelizes the carbohydrates”.

Kristina 238

You could counter that cooking releases certain nutrients as well as killing bacteria and, well, simply makes many foods taste better. Not to mention the climactic differences between Kristina’s Texas and Northern Europe; salads are simply less appetising without the sunshine. But to do so would spoil the fun and destroy the admittedly tenuous premise of this blog post.

So, where’s the link with Nazi cool? Well, Hitler was advocating all this stuff decades ago, darling.


HJ auf Fahrt

He wasn’t a mere veggie, our Adolf, oh no! His dietary opinions went far beyond the volkish eintopfsuppe, the Germanic disdain for the western dietary impurity, and the longing to return to rye bread and autarchy. No, I tell you Hitler was the unacknowledged father of the hip diet of today.

Take this excerpt from Hitler’s Table Talk (5 November 1941):

“It’s not impossible that one of the causes of cancer lies in the harmfulness of cooked foods.”

 Or this, from 29 December 1941:

“the doctors used to say that a meat diet was indispensable for the formation of bones. This was not true … we have bad teeth … this has something to do with a diet that’s rich in yeast. Nine tenths of our diet are made up of foods deprived of their biological qualities … mortality is enormous among [people] who eat only cooked foods.”

Or this from 22 January 1942:

“When you offer a child the choice of an apple, a cake or a piece of meat it’s the apple he chooses … ancestral instinct”

So there you have it! Move aside, skeletal cool dietary gurus, Adolf beat you to it. And like the return of fascism in the fashion stakes, the extreme national socialist diet is quite obviously creeping in to trendy eating habits.

The Hitler diet: the next big foodie trend? Remember, you heard it here first.

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French reforms welcome; let’s not privatise waste food

Last week came the brilliant news that the French have made it illegal to throw away any food considered edible. Supermarkets and other food businesses will now have to give this food to charities combating food poverty: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/25/french-supermarkets-donate-food-waste-global-law-campaign

Viva la revolution! Good on you, France! Good on you, Arash Derambarsh (the man who pushed for this, pictured below).  

 Let’s hope the scheme is a full success and doesn’t get watered down or, even worse, tourner au vinaigre.
So any chance of this catching on here? Any similar legislation in Britain would be most welcome. Underlining the meanness of some approaches to food waste in this country, supermarkets here lock their bins away so that people can’t even scavenge from them. Tight fisted. Greedy. Selfish.

In much of continental Europe, by contrast, even large corporations leave their bins accessible, signalling an openness to the idea of their food waste being taken by those who might need it; now France has led the way in ensuring corporate giants are forced to take food waste seriously.
If we were to adopt similar laws here, the greatest beneficiaries would presumably be the Trussell Trust. In Britain, media commentary on the food poverty issue is monopolised by the Trussell Trust, which runs around half of the food banks operational here. There’s a conspicuous lack of alternative voices on the food poverty issue in this country. Hence, food banks are seen as the solution.  

 But in previous posts, I’ve written about how food banks are simply not a sustainable solution to food poverty. Food isn’t fresh a lot of the time. Cookery skills aren’t addressed. Despite the admirable spirit of voluntarism, Hand outs, not community, is the ethic. They take risk and responsibility away from supermarkets and politicians. Sure, supermarkets already donate waste food by running food bank collections here. But this does not include FRESH fruit and veg. That would be a lot more difficult to manage, you see. Far easier to chuck away the fresh stuff and give non-perishables to food banks.

So if similar laws were adopted here, they should have to ensure that a greater cross section of community food projects receive waste food – projects which go beyond emergency food provision and look to longer term solutions to poverty, sustainability in food and community cohesion.

Food waste shouldn’t be privatised

Which brings me to current food waste service providers FareShare.

They, like the Trussell, enjoy something of a monopoly on food waste. The model involves community organisations, food banks etc signing up. Then FareShare collects waste food from supermarkets and drops it to you. 

So far, fair enough. But there’s a catch: the charge. FareShare make their money by charging a monthly fee. And you don’t know what you’re going to get week by week. Recently, FareShare’s CEO Lindsay Boswell stuck up for the poor old supermarkets who were being wrongly demonised by some beastly MPs for contributing to food poverty. Of course he did. The status quo suits him and his company.

Compare this to the approach of Adam Smith. No, not the Scottish economist. The founder of The Real Junk Food Project. 

 Smith Has told me that he wants to see FareShare “on its knees”. Why? Because he believes it’s wrong to profit from food waste. Instead, under his scheme, you sign up for free and he gives you a load of mobile numbers. You set a date on which you’ll hold a community dinner or ‘Binner Party’. Then you go through your list, calling the manager of Nandos or wherever, and getting his/her pledge to give you its still-good but technically ‘waste’ food on that date. No middleman. No fee.

The status quo, which people like Adam Smith are challenging, means boom time for those looking to make a quick buck off food waste.

Let’s follow the French model instead and let’s ensure, in doing so, that it contributes to the death of not only the food bank but also the food waste redistribution system as we know it.


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Food at Altitude

The National Police: out in force in Arquipa

The National Police: out in force in Arquipa

The cook

The cook


Gaining Altitude

Altitude is not something to be trifled with. I’m reading Conversation in the Cathedral, the work by famous Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa which won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. The book contains a nauseating description of altitude sickness. Hipolito, a minor character, is a thug-for-hire contracted by dark forces within the military regime of Peru’s President Odria in the 1950s. He’s a nasty piece of work but he’s also a Liman and so when he’s sent to break up a political rally in the rebel mountain city of Arequipa (2,300m above sea level) the dizziness overcomes him. As the rally descends into a fist fight he’s unable to hold his own and is ultimately killed.

I was fine with the altitude in Arequipa but I’m writing this dispatch (altitude-assuaging coca leaves tucked inside my cheek) from the Andean city of Puno, which is about double Arequipa’s height above sea level. No major problems, but I certainly have noticed a difficulty in breathing after any physical exertion and a headache comes and goes. My bout is a lot milder than Hipolito’s, then, but ‘altitude sickness’ is certainly real. Our hotel is downtown in Puno and feeling out-of-sorts is not helped by the madding crowds of this lakeside city: the streets are teeming with women in traditional dress, pork pie hats and babies slung over their shoulders; hawkers of every hue; and – as in every Peruvian metropolis – legions of manic taxi cabs.     

IMG_0659A game of bingo at 7am

Coach travel in Peru is serious business. In the absence of a decent rail network, bus journeys can be reminiscent of long distance air travel. We travel with the main company, Cruz del Sur, which offers blankets, pillows and reclining seats for weary travellers. Mini-televisions in the back of seats show the latest Hollywood movies. Hot meals are served by the onboard crew. And there’s heavy security to ward off the bandits with all coaches tracked by satellite.

That’s business class. After that we travelled south between Ica and Arequipa, this time in second class and it’s a slightly different story. You’re told in business class that not wearing your seatbelt is a criminal offence. In second class, as the coach winds dizzyingly through tight mountain passes, I enquire as to where my seatbelt is. I’m told that my seat doesn’t have one. Peru’s road safety record isn’t great, but I accept this and try to fall asleep. It’s an overnight journey of twelve hours duration. Annoyingly, I’m woken at 7am by a big game of bingo with the conductor as the announcer. This is followed by loud slapstick comedy on the TV screens. It feels like cheap entertainment for the masses.


The Rebel City

But so what? We’re in Arequipa to visit more communal dining rooms. Volcanic mountains tower over this picturesque conquistador city, which is refreshingly green compared to Lima’s unrelenting grey. Arequipa is where Peru gets most of its milk and Fresian cows loll in the sunshine, beneath centuries-old Incan agricultural terraces. It’s also a well preserved colonial city with beautiful facades that are best described as Incan baroque.

This weekend happened to be the twenty-sixth anniversary of the (re)founding of the Peruvian national police and the cops are here in force, especially the police band. It’s also the festival of Santa Rosa, the patron saint of the national police. Policemen and women strut around the place resplendent in smart green uniform with gold trim, pistols tucked in their holsters, while band members lug cymbals and trombones and flags about with them. Arequipa is the home of Vargas Llosa, and has historically been the starting place for many Peruvian revolutions, with change sweeping down from the high plains into Lima. So it’s a little odd to see the state out in such force in this heterodox, free-thinking, pretty mountain city. Some young protesters agree, moving through the crowds in the central square with placards proclaiming ‘culture is more important’.

Reducing Child Malnutrition

In contrast to the ‘popular’ communal dining ventures we’ve visited so far, the sites we’re visiting in Arequipa are run by the Catholic Church. Brother Victor Ramos is our guide. He takes us to the Arequipan shanty towns of Ville Cerrillos and Paucarpata. We see a primary school that has been set up by donations from the Church and other charitable bodies. The Nada Marquez school provides more than just education. For just one sole (£0.25) a week, families can buy their child breakfast and lunch at the school. The preparation of the food is done by local mums, who volunteer their time for free. Amazingly – given work pressures on poor men not to mention the Peruvian culture of machismo – Brother Victor has succeeded in recruiting four of the local men to cook voluntarily too.

The success of the scheme has been astounding. Nutritionists put child malnutrition at 70% when the school meals started a decade ago. Today it’s 9%. And it’s thanks to the introduction of simple foods such as mandarins, cereal, soya and rice into a staple diet dominated by the potato. Importantly, the school also provides lessons in basic hygiene and healthy eating for kids and parents alike. In a teeming slum in which there is only one water pump, which is only operative for one hour per day, teaching the basics about hygienic food preparation is essential.     

Santa Rosa looks down on her comedor

Santa Rosa looks down on her comedor

The Catholic Church

Later we visit the Santa Rosa community kitchen. Like all community kitchens, this one has its patron saint. But unlike the majority, this one is run by the Catholic Church exclusively for old people. It’s the cheapest comedor we’ve visited yet. Just half a sole (£0.12) gets you a good, nutritious plate of food. Grandmothers and a handful of grandfathers congregate there every day to chat and eat. It’s great to see loneliness in old people being combated through such a simple formula: come, eat, chat. There’s also education here: in embroidery, knitting, and – notably – catechism. Food is bought through donations at masses in Arequipa. The Santa Rosa feeds 25 people a week and 5 of them don’t pay anything at all.

It’s a clear reminder that in Peru churches – predominately the Catholic – play a big role in ensuring food security. Sure, the state may provision comedores populares. But in terms of social security there’s still a sizeable vacuum. Around 30% of people in Peru don’t have ID cards. And without an ID card, you don’t qualify for any benefits. NGOs and faith initiatives fill that gap. 


Placing this in context: the rise of Quinoa and all that

Vital information on the political context of all this was provided by a roundtable discussion at the Centro de Estudios Peruanos (Centre of Peruvian Studies) at San Pablo University, Arequipa. Dean of faculty Claudia Queiroz-Munis provided excellent hospitality and help throughout our stay in Arequipa and the academic discussion was chaired by History Professor Fernando Valle.

I addressed the roundtable (in Spanish) on our research so far, begging the participants to excuse my pronunciation. I ventured the theory that the comedores populares were an organic social movement which enjoyed its greatest strength in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. This period coincided with the economic and political crisis facing Peru in these years: the hyperinflation of left-leaning Alan Garcia administration (’85-’90); the austerity programme of the neoliberal Fujimori (’90-’00); and the powerful terrorist threat. The comedores stepped in to provide food in the absence of meaningful state support.

But winning the battle for legal recognition and for the state to provide food (granted in a calculated populist move by Fujimori in 1992) also reduced the autonomy of the popular kitchens as a social movement. Also, the reorientation of Peru’s economy has ensured that some comedores have made the transition into the marketplace by becoming cheap private restaurants. They remain, nonetheless, powerful safeguards for food security, human rights and women’s rights in Peru.

It was useful to hear the opinions of the assembled academics, who reminded me of the role of US aid and the Catholic Church in providing cheap food as early as the 1950s. These ventures predated comedores populares. Similarly, communal food initiatives were not always ‘bottom-up’. It was the Mayor of Lima in the 1980s who started the Vaso de Leche (glass of milk) scheme, for example.

Finally, the roundtable participants all stressed the issue of regionalism in Peru. The great Peruvian leftist politician Raul Haya de la Torre once remarked that you could travel from pre-history to modernity in one trip across this diverse country. Comedores, therefore, vary in character region by region. And one last important thing, which I hadn’t considered: these community kitchens have also contributed an awful lot to the enrichment of Peruvian gastronomy. With kitchens being run by women migrants to the city, eclectic recipes hitherto confined to their specific region have made their way into the national and global gastronomic mainstream. Hence, the rise and rise of quinoa.  


Never thought I’d end up discussing ITV period dramas over dinner at 8,000 feet

After the discussion, Professor Valle treated us to dinner. Since we were travelling to high altitude it was a light affair: crepes filled with cheese and non-alcoholic chicha morada (looks like wine, even tastes a bit like wine, but it’s actually made from purple corn).

It was at dinner that Professor Valle, a cerebral man every inch the university professor, told us of his wife’s love for British period dramas. Her favourite? Interestingly, not Downton Abbey. Mrs Valle likes Downton alright, but her absolute fave is frumpy ITV period piece Lark Rise to Candleford. An unexpected post-prandial conversation, but then the normality of abnormality has been a constant on this trip.

taking the lamb for a stroll

taking the lamb for a stroll

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