SCOTLAND’S ongoing and avoidable battle with the blubber, while others are starving and dependent on food bank handouts, tempts one to consider a return to food rationing. The social conditions that spawned its early inception during the First World War, and saw it accepted, even positively embraced, by the general population, aren’t so different from today’s.

Even if it was not initially intended as a way of keeping the entire nation healthy and fit, it seems to have had that effect. Restricting everyone’s consumption of meat, fat and sugar and increasing their intake of locally grown vegetablesto deal with wartime food shortages created a generation that was “more healthily fed than ever before or since”, according to an editor of the Good Food Guide.

That included the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated.Before the First World War, the Government had adopted a hands-off approach to food production and consumption but was forced to introduce a voluntary thrift campaign, the Patriotic Food League (PFL), when prices rocketed by an average of 32 per cent.

Potatoes had more than doubled in price. Cheese and eggs had increased in price by 45 per cent; meat, bacon and butter by 35 per cent; flour, milk and sugar by 25 per cent; bread, margarine and fish by 18 per cent; and tea by seven per cent.

In the words of PFL chairman Lord Salvesen, “the British race were the most wasteful that ever existed on the surface of this globe”. The voluntary bit wasn’t wholly successful. The better-off could afford to pay higher prices on the black market and hoarded stocks, while the poor suffered from starvation. Long queues at the shops were common. Food rationing, introduced in 1918 and again enforced during the Second World War, had its origins in Scotland. Dr Douglas Chalmers Watson, nutrition expert and senior physician at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, published a document entitled The Food Economy Campaign (Scotland) on April 6, 1917, in which he set out his suggestions for further developing the PFL, which he had directed in Scotland from August 1915 on behalf of the Food Controller Lord Devonport in London.

The Food Economy Campaign was, in effect, a precursor to food rationing. Dr Watson re-emphasised the need for “people to be convinced of the necessity for eating less food; and they have to be shown how to do it” and recommended that a properly funded extensive education campaign was necessary, and that deploying the resources of Scotland’s three colleges of domestic science was fundamental to success. His paper was accepted.

By the end of the war nearly everything eaten or drunk by 40,000,000 people was controlled. People accepted it, because it was seen as a more democratic and fair way of distributing food.

Could, should, it be invoked again? The opposing philosophies of state intervention versus the unrestricted exercise of an individual’s human right to eat and drink whatever and whenever they want remain in an unhealthy stand-off. Who today will decide what will do the greater good for the greatest number of us?