The fresh bread ban
During the First World War, British food supplies were affected by a number of factors: poor harvests at home and abroad; reduced food imports as a result of enemy action; and decreased manpower due to workforces being siphoned off by the military. By May 1917, the Minister for Food warned the Cabinet that feeding the country after September would be ‘a difficult problem’.
Action needed to be taken. With wheat and other cereals suffering from acute shortages, the supply of bread, a nationwide staple, was of specific concern. The government launched a propaganda campaign encouraging bakers and housewives to use potatoes to bulk out their loaves and commanded that commercial bakers could only use ‘standard flour’, a mix that contained more of the grain that, during peacetime, would usually be discarded.
As a further measure, the Ministry of Food and wider government made attempts to influence consumption, as well as production, by introducing the Bread Order in 1917. This regulation made it illegal to sell bread until 12 hours after it had been baked. According to The Times, the government realised that stale bread was ‘more nutritious’ and would be consumed 5% less than fresh bread.
Many people were prosecuted for breaking the Bread Order during the war. One particularly strange case was that of Louis Horowitch, a London tailor who was convicted in October 1917 under the Bread Order for buying ‘new bread’. He was charged with a £50 fine or 51 days imprisonment. Fortunately for Horowitch, the Home Office said that even if the conviction was just, giving such a draconian punishment to a ‘poor man’ was ‘inexcusable’, and he was pardoned on 25 January 1918.