Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

8 posts categorized "Food and Drink"

22 May 2023

Animals and feminism: readings on the intersection of oppression

From 7 March – 9 July 2023, the British Library Treasures Gallery has a small exhibition ‘From the Margins to the Mainstream: Animal Rights in Britain’, which follows the progression of animal rights from the enlightenment period until the present day.

To complement the exhibition, guest writer Kim Stallwood, a highly respected international figure in animal welfare, has written a series of four blog posts of his own thoughts and opinions on key themes connected with animal rights in Britain and around the world.  The articles are based on his own reading and research and aim to highlight some of the books held by the British Library that have helped shape his view. In 2022, the Library acquired the Kim Stallwood Archive, and a few of the items from the collection are included in the exhibition.

The four posts in this series focus on ‘Animals and the Climate Emergency’, ‘Animals and Feminism’, ‘Animals and the Law’, ‘Animals and Social Justice’.


Guest writer Kim Stallwood writes about books held at the British Library that have helped shape his understanding of the link between feminism and animal rights:


Copyright: Paul Knight, Image Courtesy of Kim Stallwood (2023)


Becoming vegan in 1976 began a lifetime’s commitment to living with care, compassion, and a commitment to justice for all, regardless of species. My anger at the animal cruelty that I witnessed around me gave me the confidence to speak out. But, my lack of understanding meant my arguments were often ill-informed and undeveloped. I continue to learn how to express myself in ways that withstand challenges. One way I learn is by turning to books and the authors who write them. These people and the words they write figure prominently in my life. They continue to clarify my thoughts, unravel my feelings, and help me refresh what I put on my dinner plate. Philosophers, academics, artists, novelists, feminists, and even cookbook authors influence how I live and the compassionate world I seek to make.


Carol J. Adams is one of those figures who profoundly informs my understanding of social justice and my practice as a social justice advocate. Perhaps more than any other thinker and writer, she links feminism with veganism, uniting them in a progressive agenda regardless of how we see ourselves as separated by gender, age, race, sexual orientation, or species. As author and co-author, editor and co-editor, she has written an impressive library of books and articles (and talks) about feminism, ecofeminism, violence against women, veganism, and spirituality. She established her reputation in 1990 with her groundbreaking book, The Sexual Politics of Meat (The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Critical Theory, Carol J. Adams, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, shelfmark YKL.2017.a.1903). Its provocative title signals it is neither humorous nor about cooking but as its subtitle indicates a feminist-vegetarian critical theory.

Front cover of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams. Credit: The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Critical Theory, Carol J. Adams, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, shelfmark YKL.2017.a.1903


Dominant forces build and maintain the intersection of oppressions, Carol explains. This is the spaghetti junction of patriarchy, sexism, racism, capitalism, speciesism, and more. The intersection of oppressions maintains its power and control, preventing us from establishing a caring society for all. Dominant forces rely upon their ability to encourage division and manufacture competition where neither needs not exist. ‘Dominance functions best in a culture of disconnections and fragmentation,’ Carol writes. ‘Feminism recognizes connections.’


Human dominance over animals is nothing but disconnections and fragmentation. Conditioning stops us from seeing a burger as the charred remains of dead animals. Animals are here what Adams refers to the ‘absent referent’. ‘Once the existence of meat,’ Adams explains, ‘is disconnected from the existence of an animal who was killed to become that “meat,” meat becomes unanchored by its original referent (the animal), becoming instead a free-floating image, used often to reflect women’s status as well as animals’.


Feminists for animal rights

Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) Semi-annual Publication, 1994-1995, Add MS 89458/4/91. Credit: Feminists for Animal Rights


The cover of The Sexual Politics of Meat includes a visual example of the absent referent. It reproduces a coloured drawing of a naked woman wearing a cowboy hat. ‘What’s your cut?’ she asks. Her body is drawn into cuts of meat to indicate where the rump, loin, rib, and chuck are. The naked woman and the dead animal become synthesised into one. Both are exploited. ‘The woman, animalized; the animal, sexualized,’ Adams writes. ‘That’s the sexual politics of meat.’ After the book’s publication, readers sent Carol many more images, which she collected and incorporated into her presentations. These included sexualised women’s bodies with chicken heads to advertise a restaurant and a woman with a pig’s head laying on her back with her stockinged legs in the air to advertise a pig roast. After collecting these images together Carol published The Pornography of Meat (The Pornography of Meat, Carol J. Adams, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020, shelfmark YC.2022.a.315) first in 2003, then revised and expanded in 2020 with more than 300 sexist and speciesist images.



Front cover of The Pornography of Meat by Carol J. Adams. Credit: The Pornography of Meat, Carol J. Adams, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020, shelfmark YC.2022.a.315


After reading Carol’s books, I saw images of animalized women and sexualized animals hitherto invisible to me. Similarly, the greater my care for animals became the more I saw their exploitation everywhere. I also became sensitised to the sexualised way some women portray themselves in some animal rights media stunts and protests. I now see these events as sexist. Their motivation may be to bring attention to animal abuse but they also, consciously or otherwise, perpetuate the exploitation of women. There is no competition between women and animals. I want both to be the focus of social justice. For social justice advocacy to be effective, actions for the freedom of some cannot accidentally or wilfully perpetuate the oppression of others. Meat, for example, should not be served at fundraising events like barbecues for women’s shelters or animal sanctuaries. Social justice demands open hearts and open minds to all those who are oppressed. If you become the focus of any criticism consider it as an opportunity to reflect and ask yourself - am I perpetuating the intersection of oppression or weaving the web of care?


Stallwood Writing

Kim Stallwood’s draft paper exploring the influence of eco-feminism on his animal rights practice for the Marti Kheel Conference, 2012, Add MS 89458/4/91. Credit: CC-BY Kim Stallwood


But, remember this about social justice: The journey is more important than the destination. Perfection is not a requirement for every step along the way. Of course, as a longstanding vegan, I want everyone to be like me. But is it enough? Living as a vegan is more than just about the food we eat, or the clothes we wear. There is more to being vegan than a nonviolent material lifestyle. It is also about the ideas we have, the words we say, the emotions we feel, and the way we behave. How we speak and behave with others. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ as Mahatma Gandhi is often credited with saying. The practice of social justice challenges dominant forces and reveals the depths and intricacies that sustain their oppression. Not all of them are always visible. They hide, sometimes presenting themselves as an uncomfortable benevolence. Think of the call to look after you and your family before helping strangers.


Yes, we live in a complicated and continuously changing world. We must be vigilant, ready, and unafraid to confront dominant forces whenever they appear. Otherwise, the intersection of oppressions prevails. The web of care stays out of reach. 


Read books. Change the world.


CC-BY Kim Stallwood is a vegan animal rights author and independent scholar. The British Library acquired the Kim Stallwood Archive in 2020. He is a consultant with Tier im Recht, the Swiss-based animal law organisation, and on the board of directors of the US-based Culture and Animals Foundation.





Adams, C. (2020) The Pornography of Meat, London: Bloomsbury, shelfmark YC.2022.a.315


Adams, C. (2015) The Sexual Politics of Meat: a feminist-vegetarian critical theory, London: Bloomsbury, shelfmark YKL.2017.a.1903

28 May 2020

British Library 2020 Food Season: plans to continue the conversation

Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Politics and Public Life, Contemporary Manuscripts, writes

British Library Food Season logo, with historical pictures of pineapple and plates of fruit

A few moments ago a cruel diary notification reminded me of something I’d been looking forward to all year - a talk at the British Library about the culture and history of Jewish food with Claudia Roden and Simon Schama. This was one of the 25 events on offer during April and May for the 2020 British Library Food Season, supported by Kitchen Aid. For the third year in a row the Food Season was set to celebrate the Library’s extensive food-related collections and explore the politics, pleasures and history of food. Speakers including Ken Hom, Harold McGee, Asma Khan, Carolyn Steele and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall were to discuss subjects as diverse as the UK’s cheese history, food in crime fiction and feeding our children.

image from Mrs Beeton's Family Cookey and Housekeeping book, showing a selection of cheeses

Mrs. Beeton's Family Cookery and Housekeeping Book ... New ... illustrations, etc. [Another issue, in an altered form, of “Beeton's Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book.”] 07944.g.63. facing p. 80

Thanks to Covid-19, however, this series of talks, tastings and workshops has been put on hold but we recognise that the conversation about food is more important than ever in the current climate. The emergency has brought to the fore so many food related issues and has impacted on our shopping, cooking and eating habits. At a global level food supply chains have been challenged through interrupted distribution and labour shortages while closer to home eating out has been off the menu and home cooking has seen a surge. Research commissioned by KitchenAid found that 23 per cent of bakers have increased their repertoire but they are not just baking for themselves. According to the research almost a third deliver their creations to others, including 36 per cent to relatives outside of the home and 23 per cent to neighbours. Covid-19 has sharpened awareness of the politics and pleasures of food and so the Food Season feels more relevant than ever. We were incredibly proud of the events planned for 2020 so we are hoping that many will still go ahead in some form and we’ll be announcing details when we know more.

In the meantime, there are other fantastic food festivals and conversations on offer remotely. The Oxford Symposium for Food and Cookery, an organisation which since the 1970s has existed to explore and share food research by scholars, enthusiastic amateurs, writers and chefs from around the world, is going virtual this summer. In a normal year in July around 400 people from around the world gather in Oxford for a weekend of lectures, seminars, conversation and conviviality focussed around a selected food topic. This year the subject is “Herbs and Spices” but instead of meeting in person the Symposium has moved online. Taking place between 10 July – 2 August with 500 attendees from across the world, this interactive event will include keynote addresses, panel discussions and chefs’ videos along with spaces for virtual ‘hangouts’ and discussion boards. Follow this link for more details and registration:

Herbs and Spices - logo for the Oxford Food Symposium 2020

Closer to the British Library, Borough Market has established itself as a hub for food discussion, debate and deliberation over the last few years through supper clubs, talks and publications. Since Covid-19, Borough have been running a fantastic series of lunchtime events including, last week, a riveting account of food in cities in lockdown with award winning food writer Rachel Roddy in Rome and Yasmin Fahr in New York. Coming up on the schedule, just this month, are Sami Tamim and Tara Wigley on food from Palestine and, possibly more relevant than ever, Kimberley Wilson talking about food and mental health. Find out more at:

logo for Borough Market talks

We’ll announce news of forthcoming Food Seasons as soon as we can but in the meantime who knows, maybe I’ll see you from the comfort of my kitchen at a virtual food happening. I hope so!

British Library Food Season supported by:


Kitchen Aid logo

10 January 2019

Archiving Activism: The Animal Guide

Catherine Oliver writes about the online collection she has curated which explores Animal Rights Activism

Animal Rights Activism has a long history in the UK, and with a growing surge in ethical veganism, environmental awareness, and the health-based evidence turning people away from animal consumption, it is a crucial moment to reflect on these histories. It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment or movement that a concern and care for the welfare and rights of animals emerged. The online collection I have curated using British Library archives, now available at, seeks to discuss some of these ‘entangled histories’ of animal rights, for readers to form a picture of the different strategies, organisations, and characters involved.


'The Rights of Animals' - image copyright of Kate Levey (daughter of Brigid Brophy) and reproduced here with her kind permission.

One part of the collection draws on materials related to the ‘lost women’ of animal rights: Brigid Brophy, Frances Power Cobbe, Rosalind Godlovitch, and Lizzie Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Schartau. These women all made significant contributions to the philosophy, practice, and understandings of animal rights in the UK, but often are not thought of as central figures. Tracing their stories through the British Library’s archives, the collection seeks to recognise the contribution of women in this area. The collection also draws together contentious histories of animals in politics and the use of animals in medical testing and in the beauty history, recognising the ways in which human and animal lives are entangled in different, often violent, ways. Reflecting on recent advances in the rights of animals in these areas, the collection displays some of the histories that allowed for these changes, as well as the different kinds of activists who worked and fought for these rights.


Image copyright of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and reproduced here with their kind permission.

By no means an exhaustive history of the animal rights movement in the UK, this collection serves as a starting point for engaging with not only these histories, but also with the importance of archiving animal rights movements, as our relationships with animals continue to evolve. Materials like these help us to understand how human histories are entangled with animal histories, and how humans have lived, and continue to live with animals, fighting to protect more vulnerable species from harm.

To find out more about the project, please visit

About the author

Catherine undertook a placement at the British Library ‘Animal Rights and Food Fights’, working with the archive of Richard D. Ryder, in 2016-2017, working with Polly Russell, Gill Ridgeley and Jonathon Pledge, where much of the intellectual work in this Animal Guide was inspired and completed. The materials in the collection are almost entirely located within the Ryder Papers. Catherine is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Birmingham researching vegan histories, presents and futures.

12 March 2015

Shopping in Suburbia

Robert Booth writes about Shopping in Suburbia and 1960s market research on the rise of the supermarket:

The rise of budget supermarkets and online shopping, the declining popularity of the big weekly shop and the announcement of branch closures across the country leave established British supermarkets in an unusually precarious position. Until about 20 years ago the ascendancy of the supermarket seemed unquestionable. They have so dominated the food landscape it has been easy to forget that they have only been around for about 60 years. An early market research report titled Shopping in Suburbia provides both evidence of early reactions to supermarkets and a sense of how revolutionary they actually were when they first appeared on the high street. Published in 1963, Shopping in Suburbia recorded and analysed women’s reactions to the novelty of supermarket shopping. It offers an insight in to a time supermarkets were starting to replace independent specialist retailers like butchers, greengrocers and bakers. According to the Centre for the Study of Retailing in Scotland, between 1961 and 1971 there was a net decrease of 60,000 shops in the UK . From today’s perspective Shopping in Suburbia is revealing and prescient.

Attitudes to Supermarket Shopping

The rise of the supermarket changed shopping habits, encouraging consumers to become more exploratory shoppers. One 57 year old housewife remarked that “when I see something new that I wouldn’t think of to buy at the ordinary store, at the supermarket I can look at it and read the directions”. In a supermarket, shoppers could browse at their leisure, without being subject to the scrutiny of a shopkeeper. The report is a reminder of the role supermarkets have played in introducing consumers to new foods and styles of eating and have, therefore, been a key factor in shaping the nation’s tastes.

Supermarkets age and attitude

One contemporary criticism of supermarkets, that they encourage us to buy more than we need, is also touched upon by the report, with one interviewee noting that “most people seem to believe you spend more and it is easy as everything is laid out and it’s so easy to pick up packets and tins of things that look nice”. When Shopping in Suburbia was written the advertising industry was becoming increasingly sophisticated and the idea of ‘consumer psychology’ was beginning to gain acceptance. Without the involvement of the shop keeper to guide the consumer, branded packaging was required to speak for itself for the first time.

One aspect of supermarket shopping commented on by many of the respondents in Shopping in Suburbia is the increased sense of anonymity it offered shoppers. Opinions were mixed as to whether or not supermarkets were ‘friendly’ places to shop , yet 74% of housewives in the report agreed with the statement that “Nobody knows who you are in supermarkets”. For a lot of shoppers in the 60s, it seems that such anonymity was a good thing. One particular correspondent relished no longer “having to bother with the shop assistant” and the report notes that the findings “suggest a certain degree of isolation may be acceptable”. Whether or not the housewives of the 60s would have welcomed self-service checkouts remains debatable though.

Views about supermarket owners, much as today, were varied. “I don’t think they have a very good opinion of the public,” claimed one respondent, “I think they prey on their weakness to buy.” Not everyone that the researchers spoke to was so critical though, with one lady picturing “a person capable of handling staff, fair in his judgements, everything to his finger-tips and knows exactly what’s happening in his shop”.

Image of Owners

Importantly, the 1963 supermarket consumer is assumed to be a woman. Shopping is acknowledged as being just one of any woman’s “major household tasks”. The increasing popularity of supermarkets did, however, allow women to spend less time shopping and to do so less frequently. Considerations of housewives’ class and social status are also central to the report, with working class women’s attitudes towards supermarkets generally more positive than those of other groups. The only men that feature in the report are supermarket managers, owners and workers. The idea of asking a male consumer what he thinks about the changing nature of shopping isn’t even entertained.

It is perhaps ironic that the writers of the report had concerns that supermarkets were becoming too commonplace and were too closely located. Today, Tesco alone has 3300 stores across Britain; when the report was commissioned in 1961, there were only 572 supermarkets in the whole country. The information laid out in Shopping in Suburbia offers an excellent glimpse of a time when supermarkets were a novelty and serves as a reminder of how the dominance of the supermarket is a very recent, and not necessarily inevitable, phenomenon.


Shopping in suburbia: a report on housewives' reactions to supermarket shopping undertaken on behalf of Premier Supermarkets Limited, W.H. Smith and Son Limited and the J. Walter Thompson Company Limited – British Market Research Bureau (1963)

General Reference Collection YD.2010.b.3075 / General Reference Collection 08233.t.16

Retail change in Britain during 30 years: the strategic use of economies of scale and scope – John Dawson, Centre for the Study of Retailing in Scotland (2004) 

Document Supply 7755.040130 no. 0402

09 January 2014

The pioneers of British Catering

In this guest post, Michael Flagg, the biographer and former student of Arthur Edwin Simms, recounts some of the 20th century pioneers in raising standards and improving education of professionals in British catering.

The quality and standards of food and beverages offered in today's hotels and restaurants, as well as hospitals, universities, and cultural institutions such as the British Library, owe much to early exponents. Taken for granted by the sophisticated clientèle of the UK Hospitality Industry today, are the efforts of pioneers such as Arthur Simms, Professor John Fuller and Victor Ceserani. Their work ensured a professionally qualified workforce equal to those in Switzerland, France and other European countries.

Changes in the British catering industry were also spurred by political and social changes. The decline in domestic staff meant that entertaining amongst the middle and upper classes increasingly moved from the home to the restaurant or club. With the ending of the Second World War, international travel for leisure became possible again. Revenues from foreign visitors to Britain were significant for economic recovery, and high standards in catering were crucial.

Above: Iwan Kriens first Head at Westminster Institute for Cookery (Courtesy of Westminster Kingsway Archives via Michael Flagg)

Among those leading the drive for excellence was Professor John Fuller, head of two university departments, and author of publications on cookery, nutrition dietetics, hygiene and gastronomy. Victor Ceserani, Head at Ealing College (now part of the University of West London), authored publications with Ronald Kinton and David Foskett on cooking and other catering techniques. The British Library holds the publications of these men, documenting the development of the catering profession as well as tastes and styles in second half of the 20th century.

Arthur Edwin Simms produced fewer published works than his contemporaries named above, but had perhaps the most interesting and varied career. During the Second World War, he helped found the Army Catering Corps and as Head Chef at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, oversaw the meals of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. Following the war, he was a City and Guilds of London Institute Committee Member for the first Professional Chef Qualifications in 1947. Later, he was the founding head of three college departments, one of them at the Pusa Institute New Delhi India. He had just two publications, both now out of print. 'Restaurant Service A Manual on Training and Organisation' (Pub 1950, Reprinted 1964 English Universities Press, co-authored with Ronald Victor Crippa at Brighton Municipal College) and 'A Book of Recipes' co-authored with Steve Combes BA at Portsmouth Highbury College in 1966.

Michael Flagg is the author of  'From Punch and Judy to Haute Cuisine-A Biography of the Life and Times of Arthur Edwin Simms 1915 to 2003'.

References and further reading

Victor Ceserani & Ronald Kinton. 1962. Practical Cookery. London: Edward Arnold.
British Library shelfmark: X.449/1394

Michael Flagg. 2011. From Punch and Judy to Haute Cuisine: A Biography on the Life and Times of Arthur Edwin Simms 1915 to 2003. Bloomington: AuthorHouse.
British Library shelfmark: YK.2012.b.12144

John Fuller & James Steel. ed.s.1968. Productivity and Profit in Catering. Glasgow: Scottish Hotel School, University of Strathclyde
British Library shelfmark: X.519/6784

John Fuller. 1966. Chef’s Manual of Kitchen Management. 2nd edition. London: B.T. Batsford.
British Library shelfmark: X.449/1969

John Fuller. 1965. Hotel Keeping & Catering as a Career. London: B.T. Batsford.
British Library shelfmark: X.449/1439.

John Fuller & A. J. Currie. ed.s. 1965. The Waiter. 3rd edition. London: Barrie and Rockliff.
British Library shelfmark: X.449/1245

Ronald Kinton & Victor Ceserani. 1973. The Theory of Catering. 3rd edition (Decimal and Metric). London: Edward Arnold.
British Library shelfmark: X.629/6007

29 November 2013

Historic Heston at the British Library

Barley Blyton, writes:

“Why should creativity be a new thing?” The answer is: it isn’t. Yet many of us view the cooking of Heston Blumenthal – owner of The Fat Duck and Dinner - as something of a novelty. Culinary creativity, championed by chefs like Blumenthal in Britain, Adria Ferran in Spain and René Redzepi in Denmark can seem ‘space agey’ and utterly new, but when Heston started researching for his new book, Historic Heston, he stumbled upon a whole lot of ‘other Hestons’ buried in the past.

Two weeks ago, as part of the Georgians Revealed exhibition, the British Library hosted a discussion between Heston Blumenthal – one of Britain’s most acclaimed chefs and exponent of the egg and bacon ice-cream, and Ivan Day – food historian, broadcaster, writer and confectioner. Centring on Heston’s new book and using the Georgian period as the frame for their discussion, Blumenthal and Day wound their way through history and their own pasts, expertly guided by food writer and historian Bee Wilson as Chair.

Buying his first Georgian cook book at 13 in the 1960s, a time when food was in ‘a trough of despondenc’,  Day felt like he had alighted on a golden age of British gastronomy. He began collecting his pocket money to cook menus from these books (by his own admission, Day was no ordinary 13 year old!). Initial obstacles were presented by the language  ‘how does one cook a lump?’ he asked himself, ‘how does one broil a lump, grill a lump or even find a lump in the first place?’. A lump, Day later discovered, referred to lumpfish. The next challenge was his lack of eighteenth century cooking equipment – where does a 13 year old boy pick up a ‘larding needle’ on a Saturday afternoon?

WEB Heston blog pic
Above: The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion. John Nott, London, 1723. Reproduced with the kind permission of the British Library

The early Georgian cookbooks that Day had stumbled across were not written for the everyday cook but for the courts of the rich and powerful. Many were menus of aspiration and display rather than intended for daily domestic reality. Later in the century, women cookery writers like Hannah Glasse and Elizabeth Raffald began to write for middle class households making a virtue of economy and simplicity.

Any assumptions, however, that things were necessarily more basic in the past are undermined by illustrations showing the intricate presentation of jellies, pastries and pies. For the talk at the British Library, Day brought with him a small, tapered rolling pin - evidence of the delicacy of the pastries produced and the exacting thought behind the instrument. A tapered rolling pin, Day explained, can be tilted and swivelled to mark out a perfect circle. The Georgian period produced a proliferation of cutting edge kitchen equipment feeding an ‘exotic and experimental seam’ of cookery. Many of the instruments uncannily resemble some of those used by Blumenthal today – the syringes used for piping fritters into fat in the Georgian kitchen reminded Blumenthal of the equipment he uses for similar tasks.

Like Day, Blumenthal is a history enthusiast but their approaches to history differ. While Day uses historical cookery books and tools to recreate the dishes of the past, Blumenthal uses historical gastronomy to inspire new recipes. In Historic Heston source recipes are used as a springboard for the creation of new dishes. For instance, an 1826 recipe from Margaret Dods’ The Cook and Housewife’s Manual for cucumber catsup (ketchup) becomes roast scallops with pickled shallots, cucumber fluid gel and cucumber ketchup in a bergamot, borage and cucumber butter emulsion.

Rather than suffering from the particularly British condition identified by Day as ‘cultural amnesia’ Blumenthal celebrates the creativity of the past and proudly leads the flavour-full tradition forward.

Useful information

The Exhibition Georgians Revealed will run at the British Library until the 11th March 2014.

Historic Heston is published by Bloomsbury and is available in the reading rooms at the British Library, as is Bee Wilson’s recent book Consider the Fork published by Particular.

For those interested in getting a more hands-on experience of Georgian cookery, Ivan Day runs courses at his home in the Lake District and can be found at

The author of this post can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

16 August 2013

Gert and Daisy on The Kitchen Front: Celebrity, humour and public opinion in the Second World War

Ian Cooke, co-curator of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion showcases some of the photographs and messages created by members of the public during the 'Write, Camera, Action!' days at the end of July. - See more at:

Ian Cooke, co-curator of 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' writes about how radio programmes such as 'The Kitchen Front' were used to communicate with the public about rationing and food-use during wartime.

In our exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, you can hear an excerpt from the BBC radio programme The Kitchen Front. Broadcast on 20 December 1941, it features the characters Gert and Daisy, giving a recipe for mutton cooked as turkey (“murkey”).

The Kitchen Front was broadcast daily, following the 8am news bulletin, and was one of the BBC’s most-popular shows during the Second World War, with regular audiences of 5- 7 million. The programme was conceived as a means by which the Ministry of Food could communicate with the British public, explaining about rationing schemes, encouraging the use of foods which were more generally-available, and discouraging food waste. Additionally, the programme intended to boost morale, using humour and characters who were recognisable or familiar to the listening public.

Gert and Daisy were the creations of performers Elsie Waters and her sister Doris Ethel Waters. The characters were already popular before the War, having appeared at two Royal Variety performances in the 1920s and 1930s and releasing recordings of their sketches and songs. For two weeks in April 1940, Gert and Daisy performed Feed the Brute, a 5 minute programme broadcast at the end of the 6pm evening news, to give recipes and advice on food. The use of humour, and popular characters, was a huge success.

WEB phone-pictures-03nov10 015
Above: Gert and Daisy's Wartime Cookery Book

Public response to the April 1940 broadcasts were analysed by Mass Observation, who interviewed 300 listeners in London and Lancashire. The survey found that positive comments outweighed negative by 8 to 1, and that the information given on food was regarded as useful. Referring to the use of comedy in the broadcasts, Mass Observation concluded, ‘This experimental series was an undoubted success, and revealed a valuable new method of giving out serious educational instruction to millions of housewives’ – comparing this approach to more “high-brow” forms of delivery, the authors state, ‘Gert and Daisy knock spots off Professor Harlow’s Empire Crusade’. However, it wasn’t just the comedy and popularity of the characters, but also their apparent familiarity, that was seen as effective. The language used in their dialogue, and their working class London accents, made them identifiable to their target audience. The two criticisms of the programmes related to the perceived extravagance and complexity of the recipes (a complaint that would persist through The Kitchen Front broadcasts), and the timing of the programme. Many women commented that they were too busy to listen at this time in the evening.    

Within two months, The Kitchen Front began broadcasting at the earlier time of 8.15am, following the news broadcast. Following on from the success of Feed the Brute, popular broadcasters and use of humour were the show’s staple ingredients. Alongside Gert and Daisy, series regulars included S P B Mais, Freddie Grisewood (best known for his later role as chair of the series Any Questions?), and Mabel Constanduros (performing as the Buggins family).  

The popularity of the programme was marked by letters sent to the presenters, addressed both to the BBC and Ministry of Food, suggesting recipes and asking for more information. Recipe books from the series were published regularly, and included listener suggestions (described by S P B Mais as, ‘invitations to adventures in the unknown’). As well as broadcasts on the radio, demonstrations were held at schools, factories and other public places.

Throughout the war, the BBC remained active in evaluating the impact of all its broadcasts, and, as one of its most listened-to programmes, The Kitchen Front featured in many of its reports. As well as commissioning research from Mass Observation, public opinion was monitored through the BBC’s Listener Research Department. Listener Research was set up in 1936, using social research methods to develop reliable indicators of listener habits and preferences. As well as quantitative estimates of audience figures, qualitative methods were used to understand listener values and behaviours. Methods had much in common with Mass Observation, which was set up in 1937, and the Ministry of Information’s own Home Intelligence Division. At the start of the War, the Listener Research Department set about creating a cohort of 2,000 listeners who would be asked to complete monthly questionnaires. The questionnaires would ask about specific programmes and viewing habits, but also about attitudes relating to the war, and more general matters of personal taste. This information supplemented the daily interviews conducted with a changing sample of 800 members of the population, used to determine audience figures.

WEB Kitchen Front
Above: The Kitchen Front - 122 Wartime Recipes

As the war continued research showed that, while audience numbers held up, the popularity of The Kitchen Front began to wane. BBC Listener Research in 1942 showed that 31% of those expressing an opinion thought that the quality of the programme had deteriorated. By 1943, the series was described as ‘going off’’. Reasons for the decline were uncertain, with the 1943 report suggesting that, ‘It may well be that the charge of declining quality is no more than a reflection of the housewife’s increasing weariness of the whole business of catering under wartime conditions’. A Home Intelligence Division report titled ‘Housewives’ attitudes towards Official Campaigns and Instructions’, dated 14 May 1943, suggested a similar problem for home propaganda more generally. The report argued, ‘housewives are now impervious to “the flood of official propaganda” and that they select from it only the information that seems essential to them.’ Cinema and radio faired better than other formats with posters and leaflets being seen by some at this time as, ‘a waste of paper’.

Radio broadcasting was seen as highly important in influencing opinion and behaviour in Britain during the Second World War, and became viewed as a more durable medium than print-based sources. The BBC was therefore of high strategic importance (its only competitors were enemy stations such as Radio Hamburg, broadcasting to Britain), and research on public opinion seen as vital in maintaining effectiveness and understanding what worked in gaining public support. The research methods developed and used by Mass Observation and the BBC’s own Listener Research Department became an essential tool in Britain’s war effort.   

References and sources used

BBC Listener Research Department. 1942 (February). Trend in the quality of ten long series. LR/770.

BBC Listener Research Department. 1943 (July). Trend in the quality of long series. LR/1973. (Accessed via British Online Archives, available in the British Library’s Reading Rooms.)

1941. Food Facts for the Kitchen Front: A book of wartime recipes and hints. British Library shelfmark: 7946.aa.15

P.J. Bruce (ed.). 1942. The Kitchen Front: 122 recommended recipes selected from broadcasts by Mabel Constanduros, Freddie Grisewood, etc. British Library shelfmark: 7946.df.24.

Ambrose Heath. 1941. Kitchen Front recipes & hints: Extracts from the first seven month’s early morning broadcasts. British Library shelfmark: 7945.p.12

Ambrose Heath. 1941. More Kitchen Front recipes: Further extracts from the early morning broadcasts with other recipes and hints. British Library shelfmark: 7946.a.17

S.P.B. Mais. 1941. Calling again: My Kitchen Front talks with some results on the listener. British Library shelfmark: 7946.a.8

Mass Observation. 1940 (April). Gert and Daisy’s BBC talks. File Report 77.

Mass Observation. 1941. Home Propaganda: A Report Prepared by Mass-Observation for the Advertising Service Guild.

Accessed via Mass Observation Online, available in the British Library’s Reading Rooms

Ministry of Information. 1943. Housewives’ attitudes towards official campaigns and instructions. Home Intelligence special report number 44, 14 May. Available at The National Archives, reference INF 1/293

Siân Nicholas. 2006. The good servant: the origins and development of BBC Listener Research 1936-1950, Accessed via British Online Archives. Last updated: 27 February 2008.
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Dorothy Santer (ed.). 1944. The Kitchen Front: Recipes broadcast during 1942-43 by Frederick Grisewood, Mabel Constanduros and others, specially selected by the Ministry of Food. British Library shelfmark: 7948.a.16

Elsie & Doris Waters. 1941. Gert & Daisy’s Wartime Cookery Book. British Library shelfmark: 7945.p.9

20 April 2012

Feeding the Olympics

Simone Bacchini writes: 

Sport may be good for you but food advertising during the Olympics may not. As the opening of the Games is now less than a hundred days away, another threat has appeared on the horizon. Forget terrorism, tube strikes, and the spectre of a flu-pandemic; all these we can cope with. The latest menace to be identified is far more insidious, and much more difficult to steer clear of: food. To be precise, it’s food advertising by way of sponsorships during the Olympics and Paralympics that has been singled out as a danger. Not to the Country’s security but to Olympic spectators’ waistlines, especially children’s. 

The BBC ( reports that campaigners from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) are calling for Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Cadbury to limit the visibility of their advertising which, they argue, sends out subliminal messages and encourages unhealthy eating and drinking habits, especially in children. 

I do not doubt that the AoMRC’s ‘War On Obesity’ is well-intentioned. Unquestionably, many diseases that plague our affluent society are linked to unhealthy eating habits, which are especially difficult to combat if acquired early in life. So I’m not surprised about this latest warning. What I find interesting is – once again – the way in which it is framed. What the AoMRC seem to object to the most is the apparent contradiction that emerges from the juxtaposition of lofty Olympic ideals with less desirable messages from Olympic sponsors. 

But is it realistic to ask the Olympics organisers to either refuse or limit the visibility of certain sponsors? I doubt it. The Games are not only a mega-event; they’re also a ‘mega-stage’. It is not only athletes that gain maximum exposure by taking part, it is also the sponsors. And the bigger the event gets, the bigger the need for sponsors and their cash. It may not be all about money, but it’s certainly a lot to do with it. “The greatest show on earth” doesn’t pay for itself, in spite of the ever increasing revenue from things such as broadcasting rights. 

“Money always talks louder than principles in sport”, writes Richard Godwin in London’s Evening Standard ( In his view, whether some of the major sponsors of London 2012 are “ethical” is highly debatable, to say the least. One may disagree with him, but it is undeniable that in the world of modern sports the distance between the official rhetoric and reality is far greater than the distance marathon runners need to cover. 

Is it only o question of size? Perhaps modern sport suffers from gigantism; having grown to be so big, it needs to be fed and one can’t be too picky about where the ‘food’ is coming from. And yet, as the AoMRC reminds us, nutrition matters. Should sport perhaps go on a diet?




J.A Davis, The Olympic Games Effect. Singapore: Wiley, 2012.

London reference collections shelfmark:

SPIS 796.0698 DAV 12


V. Packard, The Hidden Persuaders. London: Penguin, 1981.

London reference collections shelfmark:


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