Home Political science From Hunger to Malnutrition: The Political Economy of Scientific Knowledge in Europe, 1918-1960
Levels of Food Consumption in 1946
The Emergency Economic Committee for Europe advanced the first estimations on the impact of the shortage at the end of the war. Its reports showed, on the one hand, normal consumer rations in December 1945 and, on the other, weighted average rations of all consumer groups, plus estimated additions from non-rationed sources. It attempted to show the total diet of non-farmers, as well as the predicted average diet of non-farm consumers, offering a range of countries ordered by their levels of consumption.
Just after the war a first group of countries made up of Denmark, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland had a level of calorie consumption that was not significantly below their high pre-wartime averages. Notwithstanding the changes in the composition of their diets during the war, there was no reason to assume that the real nutritional situation of the population was much inferior to that of the pre-war diets. The Committee stressed that, owing to a more equitable distribution of the available supplies, the lower social groups of the population were better nourished than before.
A second group of countries that included Belgium, France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway and Czechoslovakia had an average consumption that amounted to about 2,500 calories per head in the autumn of 1945. A net allowance of this order would equal more than 3,000 calories per consumption unit, since an efficient system of distribution could achieve an equitable sharing of available resources. In France, farmers were consuming more or less at a normal rate, while the city population was much less well off. The normal consumer in Paris had rations worth 1,400 to 1,500 calories, to which free foods and eventual black market purchases were added.
The same variation in consumption was observed in Bohemia and Moravia, provinces of Czechoslovakia, where farmers’ consumption was similar to that of the pre-war years, while the urban population consumed about 1,840 calories per day in February 1946. The differences between the urban and rural diets were less evident in Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway, where at the end of 1945 average consumption was about 2,500 calories per day. While the composition of the diet had deteriorated as a consequence of the war, particularly regarding animal foodstuffs, the levels were considered acceptable to maintain health and efficiency. When serious shortages occurred, the international reports attributed them to the result of inefficient distribution rather than to overall supply shortages. Some cutbacks were inevitable, although a truly critical situation was not expected in these countries, with the possible exception of Czechoslovakia and urban France.
A third group of countries including Greece, Finland, Portugal and Spain hovered, at the end of 1945, on the critical level between just enough and starvation. The average consumption of the total population was rather less than 2,000 calories a day. Consumption among the nonfarm population in Greece was down to about 1,700 calories a day in January 1946 and depended upon UNRRA assistance. The normal consumer ration was down to little more than 1,100 calories, something indicative of the critical position of the urban population where extra food was not obtained from the black market. In Spain, owing to the lingering effects of the Civil War, the disorganisation of transport and the lack of fertilisers, and owing, in addition, to drought in 1945, food production remained at a low level, perhaps 70 per cent of the average for the period 1931-35. The low rations were irregularly available and the prospects were not optimistic. The situation in Portugal was probably less precarious, but the maintenance of rations depended upon
The situation in the Balkans and the countries of Eastern Europe was more difficult to assess, being, by all indications, exceedingly serious, and starvation or semi-starvation a common threat. The Danubian countries were normally food-surplus areas and production was relatively well maintained in the war years, but was drastically reduced in 1945. As these countries were predominantly agricultural, the reduction in the total supply affected the city populations heavily. In Bulgaria, the situation was critical and the level of consumption less than 1,500 calories a day. In Romania, the official ration supplied 600 calories only and there was a threat that official food stocks would run out by the spring of 1946. In Hungary, starvation appeared to be common and runaway inflation complicated the problem of food procurement and distribution. The city food rations amounted to no more than 500 to 1,000 calories a day. In Poland, domestic supplies allowed a ration of some 1,300 calories a day for the urban population. Shortages were so serious that urban populations in certain areas and social groups were dependent upon UNRRA help and other imports for additions.
No information was available in 1946 for the Baltic States and the Soviet Union. In the latter, grain exports in 1946 suggested an improvement in the food crisis: official rations were more filling, sugar and bread rations for children increased and prices in the free market were reduced.15
The German situation was exceptional because Germany was occupied in 1946 in four zones. In the occupation zones of the Allies, domestic supplies were estimated to be sufficient for an average consumption of 1,500 calories and 1,100 for the non-farm population at the end of 1945.
Until November 1945 normal consumer rations in all occupation zones remained below the 1,500 calorie level, which the Combined Nutrition Committee (composed of experts from the United States, the United Kingdom and France) considered insufficient for the maintenance of health for more than a short period. The rations were highest (1,550 in December 1945) in the British zone, followed by the American zone (1,500 calories). The rations (not always honoured) were considerably lower in the French and Russian zones, where distribution also was rendered more uneven by transport and storage difficulties. The normal consumer rations varied between 800 and 1,200 calories a day.16
The situation in Austria was also critical, although it was difficult to obtain a picture of the general conditions in the country. In autumn 1945 normal consumer rations amounted to 800 calories in the Soviet zone,  
1,490 in the American, 1,425 in the British and 1,445 in the French. For the countryside, non-farm consumption, including black market additions, was estimated to be less than 1,800 calories a person, a level only possible to maintain with large imports. From 1946 the situation deteriorated and rations in Vienna were no higher than 800 calories. The total non-farm consumption in Italy at the beginning of 1946 was less than 1,550 calories a day on average, and “normal consumer” rations supplied 820 calories a day, depending largely on imports of wheat.
The Emergency Economic Committee for Europe summarised the situation in January 1946: “After taking into account all home-grown and imported food supplies available or in sight, 140 million people will have to continue to live on a diet which provides an average of less than 1,500 calories. The remaining 40 million may be expected to receive 1,500/2,000 calories. These estimates excluded Albania, Turkey and the Soviet Union”.
Diets between 2,000 and 2,500 calories were recommended for the non-farmers in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Norway and some parts of Yugoslavia, amounting to some 21 million people. Average diets above 2,500 calories were available to non-farmers in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Switzerland. About 150 million Europeans were threatened with famine or semi-starvation, not far from 40 per cent of Europe’s population of just over 400 million, excluding the Soviet Union. The situation was hard to handle, politically and economically untenable, and a source of social conflict.
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