Book Archive

The Food Companions: Cinema and consumption in wartime Britain, 1939-45 by Richard Farmer

There was a time, not that long ago, when books on British film were a rarity. When even the arrival of a book on Ealing or Hitchcock was a notable event. Times have changed, and the main features of the British cinema landscape have been thoroughly explored. And that leaves room for books on the quirkier, more obscure aspects of British cinema.

Richard Farmer's book looks at food in wartime British cinema and the work of the Ministry of Food to explain and improve support for rationing. The book begins with the efforts of the Ministry to publicise the workings of the rationing system through print media and radio and encourage housewives (who were expected to deal with it) to cook imaginative, healthy meals with reduced resources. The next chapter looks at the official films produced by the Ministry. The rest of the book deals with how the film industry used food to back up the official message and provide vicarious pleasure for the audience, how it backed up the official line on the black market, and how it used the rituals of food and drink (particularly tea) to define Britishness.

The book is full of fascinating detail such as this description of the Potato Fair held one Christmas in the bombed out John Lewis store in Oxford Street:

 The fair was opened by Lord Woolton, the Minister for Food, with the assistance of Potato Pete, a 'utility model' Father Christmas, six clowns, two midget ponies and a baby elephant named Comet... with the free baked potatoes handed out by Father Christmas in lieu of presents. 

Who could resist that?

After reading The Food Companions it will be hard to view films of the period in the same light. Moments which would pass unnoticed will now have greater significance. Farmer's done a good job of reinterpreting the era for today's audience and is to be thoroughly congratulated.

The Food Companions book cover

Pub: Manchester University Press

ISBN: 978-0-7190-8313-6

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