The humble carrot became a secret ‘weapon’ for England during the Second World War.
In fact, according to nutrition historians, carrots were truly one of the foods that helped win the war.
But why the push on carrots? During the war many foods were scarce but carrots were in plentiful supply. The Government had tons of them stockpiled.
Sweet in taste, carrots were a substitute for severely rationed sugar.
High in essential vitamins and minerals, they were a cheap substitute for fruit. And rich in pectin, they helped bind ingredients together in recipes, replacing hard to find flour.
The problem for the government was that carrots were not the nation’s favourite vegetable. Even Walt Disney, of Mickey Mouse fame, offered to help the British Government promote carrots. His carroty characters were used extensively in newspaper campaigns.
The British Ministry of Food developed a character called Dr Carrot. It became a key ingredient in the Dig for Victory campaign.
Carrot fudge, curried carrot, carrot jam, carrot puddings, shredded carrot sandwiches, carrot juice were just some of the intriguing food ideas promoted by Dr Carrot.
A myth about eating carrots played a major part in winning the air battle against the Germans. The Royal Air Force circulated a story that the reason why their pilots had exceptional success in shooting down enemy planes at night was their carrots consumption. AT the time the RAF was keen to cover up its use of new radar technology for spotting German planes and their use of red lightening in aircraft instruments to protect the crew’s night vision.
The deception worked as the Germans remained oblivious of the RAF new technologies. The deception also had a dramatic impact on carrot consumption. Concerned about seeing in the dark during blackouts, the British public devoured it thinking it would improve their night vision. The rallying cry was: A carrot a day keeps the blackout at bay.
The myth that carrots help you see in the dark still exists today. Though nutrients in carrots are important for eye health, they have no impact on seeing in low light conditions.
Not only eating carrots was a way of supporting the troops but also growing them. Everyone began to grow not only carrots but all vegetables encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign. Flowers disappeared from front gardens to be replaced by vegetables, schools cultivated lawns and waste ground and parks resembled market gardens.
Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, appealed to the war-weary public: “This is a food war. Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping. The battle on the kitchen front cannot be won without help from the kitchen garden. Isn’t an hour in the garden better than an hour in the queue?”
With food so scarce, women queued for hours for almost everything. People would join a queue without knowing why.
The campaign to promote carrots consumption even extended to miners working in the coal face.
At the National Coal Mining Museum for England near Grange Moor a new exhibition about the Bevin Boys features one of the boys writing to his mother that he was eating a lot of carrots.
When I was studying for my nutrition degree I also ate a lot of carrots to reduce the stress.
But too many it seems. Upon returning home after a few months away at university, my mother was alarmed when she saw me. The whites of my eyes and my skin had turned a pale yellow. I should have known better but eating excessive amounts can cause a harmless condition in which the skin turns orange. A few weeks off carrots and my colouring was back to normal.
In hindsight, it was not only eating carrots but also activity in the kitchen and in the garden that helped win the war.
The expression ‘The Kitchen Front’ was on everyone’s lips.
It made housewives feel they were not wasting food and by serving nutritious, frugal meals they were contributing to the war effort. People were at their healthiest and heart disease, cancers and stroke were significantly reduced.
World War Two revived the popularity of the humble carrot. Today it is the country’s favourite vegetable after the potato.