Panic room

In 2010, as part of an experiment and learning exercise, we lived on World War II rations to see how it worked and if it was possible with today’s diet.

The answer was, yes, it was possible, but good lord it was dull and hard work.

But the experience is likely to become vital. On 29 March 2019, we will leave the European Union with little or no preparation done to ensure food security. The likely results will be random shortages and hyperinflation, at least in some key commodities.

This is what civil servants in the Department for Exiting the European Union expect; many individuals there have started to build their own store cupboards of food to ensure their families don’t go hungry in the short term.

Obviously, eventually a system to allow for food distribution to begin working again will be implemented. But it’ll take at least six months and the fall of the government to happen. Even then, that system might have to include elements of rationing – if the government decides that ‘fair shares for all’ is something it wants (they’ve shown no sign of this since 2010, preferring ‘devil take the hindmost’ as their mantra).

I’ve started adding items to my weekly shopping list to put away for that particular rainy day, building a brexit store cupboard to ensure that neither of us go hungry, but trying not to panic buy or add too much to our exiting overheads.

The first problems we’ll see after brexit will be shortages/high prices for fresh goods – salads, fruit, meat. There’s nothing that can be done about that – you obviously can’t build a six-month stock of tomatoes and bananas.

But the nutrition of fresh fruit and vegetables will still be required, so tinned goods are our friend here. Tinned tomatoes make up a lot of the storage space because they are so flexible for making meals. Tinned soup, tinned vegetables and tinned fruit in juice are also there, ensuring that, if nothing else, we keep up the supply of vitamin C and fibre our bodies need.

Next up are shelf-stable carbs – pasta and rice, mainly. The average Western European eats far too many of these anyway, to the point that people try to cut them out entirely. Both extremes are foolish. Carbs are instant energy and needed in moderation by everyone. They’re also really tasty and help to bulk out a meal to create a feeling of being full at the end of a meal – useful when you’re worrying if the country will recover at all from this entirely foreseeable nightmare. Flour is there too, but mainly as a cooking ingredient because my cakes and bread are always almost inedible.

Oats and oatmeal are a great addition here, as both can be easily made into both sweet and savoury dishes and absorb the flavours around them, creating the illusion of abundance. During the rationing experiment I made a lot of meals with mince, one third actual ground beef or vegetable protein, one third finely diced mushrooms and one third oats soaked in gravy. Nobody ever realised it wasn’t plain mince beef.


If you remember your Food Pyramid from school (it’s largely almost entirely unhelpful, but it’s a good basis to start from when planning meals; the above 1946 US Department of Agriculture poster is a better option), the next tier is protein. Ours is suppled by tinned fish and meat for my husband and bags of dried textured vegetable protein (TVP) and vegan sausage and burger mix for me. The latter can be bulked out with oats; the former less so. Smaller tins are better than large ones, as wasting food by having it go off is terrible at the best of times and virtually criminal in times of shortage.

The next tier is dairy produce. This is one thing that is likely not to go into shortage in 2019, but it is very likely to jump in price quite dramatically. Dried skimmed milk is awful, but it’ll do as a cooking ingredient. The Americans, no slouches when it comes to shelf-stable awful food, do various long-life cheese powders. By combining the dried milk with a good shake of a strong cheese powder, you’ve got an entirely passable cheese sauce, with which culinary miracles can be made.

At the top of the pyramid is butter and spread. These are not shelf-stable; there is such a thing as tinned butter, but that’s basically unfiltered ghee and is awful in almost everything. I’ve invested in lots of small bottles of oil – olive and rapeseed mainly – for cooking and for dipping and frying bread in. Small bottles because, once opened, the shelf life reduces dramatically. Buy small bottles you can open and go through rather than bulk containers that may perish before you’ve finished them.

There’s a temptation, especially if doing a brexit cupboard shop online, to buy condiments and those little flourishes – sauces, chutneys, condiments – that make food extra exciting. The actual experience of World War II suggests these are foolish buys. During the entire War, Fortnum’s and other such emporia were fully stocked with things like mint sauce and ketchup and stock cubes and all those other bits and pieces, often at very reasonable prices even at the worst of the Wolf Packs in the Atlantic. They were no use whatsoever without the main meal they do so much to enhance – you try having a cheese and pickle sandwich without the cheese, the butter or the bread, or mint sauce on a plate with no lamb or potatoes, and report back to me on how good it was.

We have 290 days, at the time of writing, to build up this cupboard. By adding items to our standard weekly shop, the cost should be ameliorated. If brexit is a success – please, I know already – then we’ll end up with a cupboard full of useable if dull foodstuffs to eat over the course of 2019.

Otherwise, at least we won’t go hungry while we take back control.


Fear not

Popular wisdom has it that, once the Nazis had come to power in Germany, they were kept there by the fear of the population.

Indeed, this is what the German population repeatedly said after the end of the war that crushed their country: we were scared, there was nothing we could do, it wasn’t our fault.

And it helped us all to believe that. What would we have done if we had been invaded, or if Oswald Mosley had come to power? We’d’ve done nothing, because we would’ve been too scared to act, fearful of the torture and concentration camps awaiting any dissent.

But it’s not true. Or, at least, it’s true only of a minority of the German population under Nazism, because for a large majority, the broadly conservative (with a small ‘c’), politically disinterested, get up, work, come home, go to bed, play a little football on the weekend, ordinary people, for them, Nazism provided very many benefits.

For a start, no matter how “low down” on the social scale you were, suddenly whole sections of the population were firmly placed below you. A humble street sweeper, a toiling factory worker, the dustman, the waiter, the people the rest of us barely notice and treat like nothing because to us they are nothing, those people got a promotion. Because now they could punch down in a way that was never possible before. They could hate Jews and Roma and ‘The Other’, because they were below them now. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

Then, after years of a terrible economy that did nobody any good, Nazism used pump-priming methods to flood the economy with easy money. This is a handy short-term policy that has worked on other stagnant economies since, but it only works briefly before causing hyperinflation and mass unemployment. But if you underpin pump-priming with slave labour from the camps and from unpaid foreign workers and eventually by invading other countries and slaving their economy to yours, you can keep this going for over a decade. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

The systematic murdering of the terminally ill, the mentally handicapped, the geriatric and the disabled reduced most of the costs of healthcare by removing cases that are always a drain on hospital and GP finances, meaning lower prices for everyone else and reduced waiting lists. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

Massive investment in infrastructure is a tried and tested way out of recession that always works, although governments are reluctant to incur the debt this causes. But if you can draft the unemployed into building the infrastructure for free (or for the cost of their social security), then the price dramatically reduces. If some of the infrastructure – railways, ‘resettlement camps’ – is then used to kill the ‘subhuman’ population, allowing the state to plunder their gold teeth, watches and bank accounts, the debt isn’t run up. And if it is, pump-priming destroys it anyway. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

The people were taught that their nation was the best in the world, none better, it’s the best, everyone says so. Everybody else is lesser. So when Austria, the Czechs and Poland fell under the jackboot, it was only natural that the lands and properties should be confiscated. The slum dwellers in Germany could be given decent housing in Poland, the Poles themselves sent off to be destroyed or worked to death. That in turn allowed the slums to be removed, meaning that the richer housing was in a better area. Society could be more neatly segregated, so for people would mix only with similar people. Social cohesion removed much of the need for politics. People didn’t feel they needed to vote, so didn’t miss it. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

As Michael Rosen has pointed out, fascism doesn’t arrive in jackboots and uniforms. It arrives as your friend, and, at first, you welcome it. It benefits you. And, as Martin Niemöller pointed out, by the time you notice that fascism is not doing you any good at all, it’s too late.

What can we do? Nothing while we believe that it’s fear that drives people to accommodate themselves to Nazism. We need to stop believing this terrible, 70-year-old trope. And we need to act. When we see someone spouting Nazi garbage – often in hidden forms – call them out on it. Call them liars. Don’t give them a chance to plant their seeds: salt the earth.

And, if you should get the chance, always punch a Nazi.