In late 1930s Britain, tens of millions of citizens prepared themselves for the spectre of World War II. That included transforming the ways they produced and consumed food in hopes they wouldn't go hungry amid the uncertainty and chaos of conflict. A visionary Ministry of Food laid plans to try to ensure that every individual would get basic nutrition, and a gutsy population on the 'home front' grew more of their own vegetables, stopped wasting precious food, and shared foods that had been made scarce by wartime.
As we grapple with our 21st Century climate crisis and the evidence that conventional food systems feed environmental problems, can we take lessons from this poignant story? Can we act decisively and courageously as others have, and do food differently for our futures?
My new book Mobilize Food! Wartime Lessons for Environmental Victory Today digs into these questions to unearth motivation and hope for all of us who care about climate and about food. Revealing clear lessons from this powerful wartime case study, the book offers evidence for optimism if we are willing to act. Timely and practical, Mobilize Food! shows how each of us can help achieve climate stability and environmental sustainability through food decisions in our homes and communities. Ultimately, Mobilize Food! reveals the power of food systems and choices for war and for peace.
"Today, Boyle argues persuasively, we need an all-hands-on-deck mobilization to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and slow our precipitous fall off the climate change cliff. And her research into how the U.K. mobilized wartime food production and distribution, presented in lucid prose with lots of moving interviews with former U.K. residents, suggests many steps we could take in Canada to reduce the environmental footprint of our food and thus reduce and mitigate some of climate change’s worst impacts. We should listen to prophetic voices like Boyle’s while we still can. Highly recommended."
— Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun Oct. 28, 2022
"We face a 'mighty challenge' ... and although food is not the only cause of global warming and climate change, it is one of the places where we can start. As M.S. Prakash, (1995) says, 'beginning with basics like the food we uncritically consume several times a day… empowers and conscientizes us to make radical changes.' Eleanor Boyle’s Mobilize Food! Wartime Inspiration for Environmental Victory Today does that."
— Mary Gale Smith, BC Review Nov. 18, 2022 and BCFoodHistory.ca
“Mobilize Food! brings together an inspiring history with an urgent call to re-imagine food and agriculture systems and practices in the present. Chock-full of fascinating wartime history, it is a lovely reminder of how, with the right kind of leadership, the public can be rallied to dramatically rethink its diet and agricultural producers can quickly repurpose their activities. Importantly, Boyle emphasizes that mobilization requires equity—it did in the war and does again in the present—and that equity and improved wellbeing can be achieved even in the context of sacrifice and a great societal undertaking. Boyle recounts how wartime rationing actually improved nutrition and population health. She highlights the role of mass communications, driving home that emergency mobilizations need to look and sound like emergencies. As was the case in World War II, Boyle urges that needed transformation not be left to voluntary measures and that leadership and coordination on the part of government is essential if we are to rapidly shift our agricultural systems to carbon zero.”
— Seth Klein, Author of A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency
“A brilliant book that could not be more timely. Understanding the profound role of food in peace and especially in war opens our eyes to the risks and opportunities facing us as climate chaos looms. Not only do lessons from WWII Britain teach us how to survive the coming disruption, they show us how to mitigate the crisis and improve the outlook. Eleanor Boyle's lucid, encouraging book hands us a strong new tool in the arsenal to fight the climate emergency and more. Read and circulate it. The book is much needed.”
— Tara Cullis, President, David Suzuki Foundation
“As an anti-poverty activist, I feel it’s important to probe what has proven to be effective as well as ineffective interventions as we seek to challenge food insecurity, protect our right to food, and democratize nutrition. Eleanor Boyle’s distillation of wartime food lessons clearly and thoughtfully helps us do that. It paints the picture of an effort that was imperfect but bold, and that was radical but do-able and with benefits for previously food insecure citizens during that time.”
— Paul M. Taylor, Executive Director, FoodShare Toronto
“So often hunger, diet-related illnesses, and agricultural crises seem insurmountable problems that only get worse each year. Eleanor Boyle’s Mobilize Food! reminds us that concrete do-able solutions are right in front of us. Drawing on the positive experiences of food in Britain in World War II as well as creative programs being implemented now, Boyle advances clear solutions. Public Health, Public Education, Public Libraries, Public Housing—it is time for a Public Food System and a Ministry of Food!”
— Debbie Field, Coordinator, Coalition for Healthy School Food (Canada)
“Knowledge of the past is vital, not only to understanding the present but also for our easily forgotten potential to make change happen. In Mobilize Food! Eleanor Boyle has performed an immensely valuable service by reminding us of how quickly and dramatically we are capable of changing our relationship to food to avoid climate catastrophe.”
— Andrew Simms, Co-director, New Weather Institute; Co-ordinator, Rapid Transition Alliance, UK
“For those who doubt that a nation can produce, share, and consume food in a way that achieves sufficiency, justice, and ecological care, Eleanor Boyle has an answer: It’s been done before, and we can do it again! Mobilize Food! is an engaging and informative examination of how societies, past or future, can learn to live within limits, whether imposed or voluntary, and become better, more convivial societies in the process.”
— Stan Cox, plant scientist and Lead Scientist at The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas
“Will it take a destructive global war to mobilize a worldwide food system transformation for the better? We certainly hope not! It is precisely why we should heed the lessons learned from the wars of the past and the revolutionary work of various food activists globally. Mobilize Food! is a call that we need wars on injustice, planetary destruction, corporate control of food, and a war on a two-tiered system that relegates the poor to long line-ups at the food bank. A clarion call to unite the food movement!”
— Tammara Soma, Assistant Professor, School of Resource and Environmental Management (Planning) and Research Director, Food Systems Lab, Simon Fraser University
“I really enjoyed reading Mobilize Food! Eleanor Boyle balances the beautiful and tragic human stories of wartime with analytical assessments of government interventions to assure Britons were nourished during World War II. She also shows how we have much to learn from this period if we want to create today a food system that focuses on health, equity, and sustainability.”
— Rod MacRae, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University
“I enjoyed Mobilize Food! as both a history and a call to action. Eleanor Boyle delights with stories of Britain’s Ministry of Food, covering better known topics such as victory gardens and lesser-known elements of the wartime food system such as the Women’s Land Army. Boyle ties Britain’s agricultural war effort to the current challenges of climate change. Her argument for more sustainable and equitable diets is both sensible and achievable, combining shifts toward more plant-based diets with a more general approach to global food security. This is a very engaging book!”
— Lenore Newman, Director, Food and Agriculture Institute, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of the Fraser Valley
"The first half of this book delineates the United Kingdom’s approach to food-supply problems during the turbulent years leading up to and during the Second World War. ... government instigated a bold campaign to change citizens’ expectations and approaches to farming and eating.... this system resulted in better nutrition for poorer people in the nation and led to an overall healthier citizenry with better morale. Boyle argues that our modern war is against climate change, to which our current food production system contributes.... effectively outlines applicable lessons from the U.K.’s WWII–era food-supply approach to problems of today, noting that change can occur in systems as well as individual choices; that strong public leadership is a necessity; and that nations need to come together in common cause....thoroughly researched and referenced book is compelling, and many readers’ eyes will be opened to a large-scale problem and the potential for addressing it through concerted, deliberate action. Throughout, Boyle argues her points convincingly, and many will find a sense of hope in her ideas. An optimistic yet realistic look at the problems and possibilities of global food production."
— From Kirkus Indie Review Program at Kirkus Reviews
Both a history book and an environmental analysis, Mobilize Food! suggests a compelling way forward through the examples of the past...
"Mobilize Food! is a provocative call to arms for sustainability. Utilizing the example of Britain’s wartime responses to food shortages and rationing, Boyle makes a case for taking extreme measures to combat climate change. .... By looking back into history, the book identifies a time and place that has parallels to today’s climate crisis.... Boyle encourages people (especially in the West) to adopt the same sense of urgency and solidarity that characterized wartime Britain... Mobilize Food! is thoughtful in its approach to climate change, drawing on a past example of a social response to a global crisis for lessons that can be applied today."