I’m getting a weekly government food box delivered to my door (I was deemed vulnerable due to health issues and living alone). The government should be applauded for getting this underway in such a short time, delivering over 300,000 boxes weekly, in conjunction with distribution companies such as Brakes and Bidfood.
The box contains basic essential foods for those self-isolating. According to the government it contains enough food for one person for a week and is compiled with the help of nutritionists. Everything is designed to be stored at ambient temperatures and the fresh foods, carrots, potatoes, apples, are long lasting.
The choices are quite random: a friend in a neighbouring borough gets completely different food. Nor are dietary requirements taken into account: I get cans of meat (which I give away) and my friend can’t eat most of her box as she is coeliac (a severe gluten allergy).
The last time the government started handing out food in the UK was during the second World War. How does it compare to rationing? In terms of choice, the 2020 foods do seem like something out of the 1950s.
1945 weekly rationing:
230g bacon or ham
1 egg (double for vegetarians)
57g cheese (double for vegetarians)
57g loose tea
1.7 litres of milk
57g butter (so approximately a quarter of a pack)
57g lard (for cooking)
1 bar of soap or laundry soap
1 jar of jam or 2 jars of marmalade a month
340g sweets a month
1 tin of milk powder every two months
Fruit, vegetables and fish were not rationed but were difficult to obtain. Many shopkeepers would only sell one apple per week per person.
Today’s box would feed one person for seven days, at least two meals a day including breakfast, so no one would starve. But you would need some spices, oil, butter, cheese, salt, to make your dishes a little more flavoursome.
2020 Covid box:
Box of Ready Brek. I get this every week which is too much. I’ve tried to make other things such as flapjacks but I can’t say it was a success.
2 kilos potatoes
1 large onion
6 small apples
500g packet of macaroni or spaghetti
2 x 500g packets of rice (basmati or long grain)
Pack of digestive biscuits ( good for a cheesecake base)
Can of meatballs or Fray Bentos meat pie
2 litres of long life milk
1 tin of tomatoes
Jar of ‘Bolognese’ sauce, without meat. (It has so much sugar in it that I added salt, garlic, olive oil and a couple of bay leaves to make it palatable.)
3 tins of soup (mushroom, vegetable or tomato)
Can of kidney beans or peas (make a bean salad or rice and ‘peas’)
Tin of baked beans in tomato sauce
Bar of soap (foamy)
Lynx body wash (I cannot use a bottle of this every week)
2 rolls of toilet paper
Loaf of pre-sliced white ‘Mother’s Pride’ style bread – while this is perfect for dainty and refreshing cucumber sandwiches, today many of us would prefer something along the lines of the ‘National Loaf’, hearty and wholemeal, available during World War 2 (and at the time, much complained about).
Can of tuna in brine. This can be used for tuna salad, sandwiches or added last minute to a tomato pasta sauce.
Box of long-life orange juice (I’ve been making gin and government orange cocktails with this)
Can of mixed fruit salad in juice
14 x PG Tips tea bags
50g sachet of instant coffee
The fresh food and the milk are incredibly useful, although dairy, protein and some basics such as cheese, oil, and butter is missing. (What are you supposed to put on your toast?) The government’s idea of a treat is a packet of plain digestives. Even in the war they got a 2 ounce bag of sweets in their rations! There is no sugar or eggs so baking would be difficult.
Mushroom Soup Macaroni Cheese
- 500 g macaroni
- butter for greasing the tin
- 2 410ml tins of mushroom soup
- 150 g cheddar or comté cheese, grated
- 2 tbsp ground pepper (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180c.
- Boil the macaroni in salty water in a large saucepan for 2 minutes less than it says on the packet. Drain.
- Grease the baking tin with butter and tip in the cooked macaroni
- Stir in the tins of cream of mushroom soup
- Grate the cheese on top and bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Add pepper and serve hot.
Government tuna pasta
- 50 ml olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jar 'Bolognese' sauce
- 1 tin tuna in brine, well drained
- 500 g spaghetti or other pasta
- 2 tbsp sea salt. (1 for the pasta, 1 for the sauce)
For the sauce:
- Take a deep frying pan on a medium heat and add 40ml of the olive oil
- When the oil is quite hot, add the chopped onion and fry on a low heat until soft
- Add the bay leaves
- Add the garlic
- Add the jar of sauce
- Add the salt
- Add 10ml of olive oil to the drained tuna which you add to the tomato sauce last minute
For the pasta:
- Using a large pan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta 2 minutes less than it says on the packet.
- Drain and toss in butter or olive oil. If not using, then stir it into the sauce very quickly before it sticks together.
Gin and Government Orange for Press Conferences
- Gin/Vodka/fizzy white wine
- 1 litre Government Orange Juice
- Take a tall cold glass, fill halfway with ice
- Put in a measure of gin or alcohol of your choice
- Top up with plenty of government orange juice
- 2 slices white ready sliced bread
- salted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced rounds, skin on or off, you decide
- salt and pepper
- Butter both slices of bread. A sandwich bar trick is to use a rubber spatula for easy spreading.
- Place the thin rounds of cucumber on the bread.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Cut into four triangles and serve with a cup of tea or a glass of Pimms
The government is finally acknowledging that food poverty exists in the UK, at least during the Corona Virus lockdown, and announced on the 8th of May that they were giving 16 million pounds to food charities. But access to fresh foods, fruit, vegetables, cheese, butter and eggs could be improved along with meat alternatives such as nuts. The poor and the vulnerable can’t exist on cans alone.
Personally I haven’t been able to access any supermarket priority slots, which was supposed to be a feature of this scheme. Fortunately, as a chef, I have a good larder, but my quality of my diet has definitely suffered during lockdown.