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.