The Rations Challenge: Forty Days of Feasting in a Wartime Kitchen by Claud Fullwood

I’m not exactly sure what drew me to Claud Fullwood’s forthcoming book The Rations Challenge.  Perhaps it was my general and ongoing interest in how to make even a small contribution to addressing climate change.  Little did I know that this would turn out to be the perfect read for completely different reasons.

As the blurb for this book explains:

“Food is always a hot topic – Food waste, food banks, food miles, local versus imported. As we all need food, we can’t ignore it.  But as some families struggle without enough food to live on, others are challenged to consider how much they throw away, or how to make the food they have go further. Which is why Claud Fullwood set herself the challenge of living on World War Two rations for Lent. It opened her eyes not only to issues of hunger and waste, but also to the many ways in which we have the power to fix our groaning food system, make our families stronger and our communities whole again.  The Rations Challenge takes the wisdom of World War Two and looks at how it can help us revolutionise how we live now. By learning the lessons our parents and grandparents lived by in the ’30s and ’40s, we can build a future that works for everyone.”

It is something of a coincidence of timing that I read this book during this year’s Lent (which ends on 9 April). But no-one could have foreseen the additional relevance of reading this text during a time of a world-wide pandemic and consequent fears about accessing regular food supplies with all the various challenges people are facing during lockdown.

Fullwood presents a book of three parts:  a week by week meditation on getting through a version of her challenge during the Lent period; a range of accounts from people who experienced rationing, or who are trying to find different ways of addressing food availability issues; and a selection of wartime recipes and information about seasonal food.  In doing so, she aims to present:

‘a sense of celebration; a sense that human beings have the wherewithal to overcome hardship and need.  Through community, resourcefulness, and a sense of fun, even living on little can become a joyful thing.’

If I had been reading this just a few weeks earlier, I would have been using Fullwood’s text as a tool to consider how we as individuals can and should change our approach to food, shopping and general living in order to make our own contribution to the current climate emergency.  But when Fullwood writes that ‘food, like any other resource, needs to be approached with moderation and common sense.  There’s only enough to go around if we don’t demand unlimited choice….’, I am reminded only of all the recent panic buying and selfish, irrational behaviour of a relatively small number of citizens, causing such anxiety for key workers and vulnerable people unable to get the essentials they need.

Thankfully, in Edinburgh at least, food supplies are starting to return to normal.  Even so, people who cannot leave home are still having difficulty booking food deliveries.  And of course many people are finding themselves in highly unexpected low-income circumstances, making it all the more important for there to be access to affordable basics.  As a result, we are rightly seeing a rise in information online about how to cook on a very limited budget, with only limited access to everyday foods. With its focus on community spirit; the importance of buying and using only what one needs; and the value of supporting local producers wherever possible, Fullwood’s text turns out to be a very positive contribution in these challenging times.


With thanks to publishers Lion Hudson Ltd for a review copy via NetGalley.

Featured image: Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

16 thoughts on “The Rations Challenge: Forty Days of Feasting in a Wartime Kitchen by Claud Fullwood

  1. We’ve been very lucky but that’s probably because, as a household, we don’t depend entirely on supermarkets being fortunate enough to have an exellent greengrocer close by. I pleased to see how busy they’ve been over the past few weeks and hope that people have discovered a different – and tastier – way of eating.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s great to hear, Susan – and a big shout out to all the local indie retailers playing such a big part in keeping us going in very difficult times 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I found “The Rations Challenge” on Kindle! Thank you for the introduction. What I am most interested in is the idea of meditation coupled with food. This is an excellent idea because mediation will focus our attention on food, food production, food supply, food fraud, food distribution, especially within an global environment. Our grocery stores are a wonderful invention, but there is a wider, more complex narrative. Our current circumstances have brought to our immediate attention how society responds to crisis. We go to survival mode. I have even heard that people are now trying to grow their own food. Then there are the empty shelves of flour. People have purchased flour to make bread, even through there is ample bread supplies on a nearby shelf. I share your thought that we are all responsible for our response. I think that this book is a wonderful reference and a source of finding personal well-being.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is fascinating how the pandemic is changing perspectives on unexpected aspects of society. Who would have anticipated a rise in home-baked bread! I can’t wait to see all the positive developments which will hopefully emerge at the other end of this sad and difficult period.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a timely read Liz! So much food is wasted and I hope this will change as we all become more aware of our consumption. I really adored my great aunt who lived through the wars (though she was a child for the first one) and I still remember how she cooked, making her own stocks, leftover roast from Sunday made into the weekly shepherds pie etc. There’s a whole generation of skills there we need to rediscover!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a timely read this has turned out to be, and a fascinating one to boot. A little like madame bibi, I recall my grandfather being such a resourceful person in the kitchen garden, growing all his own veg and using every last scrap one way or another. Maybe one of the things that the current restrictions will engender is a greater appreciation of the value of food and the farming industry that supports it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A good read at the appropriate time. There is no shortage, people just panic. We do have it still easier than it was during the war. My mum was good with using everything and re use things as she lived through the war and had sometimes not enough to eat. People will learn from this and use food and things more wisely and might be not follow this ‘throw away’ society. Take good care of yourself and hubby and stay safe!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. An interesting read, Liz.
    When our girls were younger we used to have some food waste. They would refuse to eat certain foods or suddenly go off something they had been enjoying for months. Fortunately, we don’t waste food now and always use left-overs the following day or freeze them. With this current challenge we have had to make do with ingredients we wouldn’t normally use and have had to go without some ingredients, too. For years I have been making all our bread in a bread-maker. I now cannot get enough flour for bread or ordinary baking! There is no yeast to be had! We will have to resort to buying factory-made bread which appears to be plentiful. I do hope that the people who have bought large quantities of flour don’t waste it. I know of two people who have bought bread-makers in the past few weeks; I hope they enjoy the bread they make and continue to use them after the pandemic fades away.
    Keep well and safe, Liz xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is all so interesting, Clare and so important. I completely agree with you about the fear of waste after stockpiling. I hope that people consider donating stuff they don’t need to foodbanks and distributing charities. Wishing you and your family a safe and relaxing Easter xxx

      Liked by 1 person

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