Date of Award

Spring 3-14-2014

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Elizabeth Sundermann


The practice of controlling food supplies has existed since ancient times—driven by urbanization, the controls were of a protective nature, as the commercialization of food production and retailing led to opportunities for graft and corruption. Authorities, motivated by the belief in a “moral economy” that held the public good in higher esteem than market forces, attempted to curb these abuses with various controls. However, in Great Britain in the eighteenth century, rapid industrialization led to a new economic and political approach to governance: that the public was best served by free trade.

This premise meant that market demands now superseded the public good. The resultant rampant malnutrition that afflicted Britain’s lower classes was effectively ignored until the recruitment demands of the Boer War in 1899 exposed the truth about the working poor’s physical condition. Despite these events, food controls would not be enacted until the twentieth-century, when war-time threats led to food rationing.

The British government employed these programs twice in the twentieth century: from 1918 to 1920, at the end of World War I, and again from 1940 until 1954, brought about by World War II. These programs had far-reaching effects on the highly stratified class structure of British society as well as wartime morale, and also vastly improved the health of the nation. Food rationing served a double purpose: as part of the Home Front war effort and as a precursor for Welfare state policies aimed at a more equitable, and, quite literally, a healthier society.