Everybody knows there was extensive food rationing during the second world war, in London, as well as the rest of the country. However meals eaten away from home, whether in expensive West End restaurants or industrial canteens, were what was called, ‘off ration’.
Rationing hadn’t lasted that long before it was soon noticed by many people, especially those working and living in the West End, that the rich seemed to be able to enjoy close to pre-war levels of gastronomy at the best restaurants and hotels.
Many people bitterly resented the ostentatious gorging on expensive meals. There was a definite sense of, what was described by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food at the time as, ‘an inequality of sacrifice’.
In 1942 the Government acted by creating a flat maximum charge that prevented restaurants providing meals to customers that cost more than five shillings (25p). Although it was pretty easy for a few of the more salubrious restaurants to charge extras over and above this sum (say for the orchestra or the dancing and the like) generally though, the aim of the new law worked, and it pretty well made the morale-dissipating effect to disappear.
That said, it didn’t really matter how luxurious and expensive your establishment was, decent meat, along side many other ingredients, was often very hard to source. So throughout the war the ubiquitous Spam increasingly found itself on restaurant menus. The cheap reconstituted pork product was invented in 1937 in America, and the name is either an abbreviation of Spiced Ham or short for Shoulder of Pork and Ham. No one seems to know.
The fascinating photos above were taken by Ralph Morse for Life magazine and published January 1944.