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.