The rationing of the Second World War ended in 1954. Controls on food were gradually removed. However, it became clear that most of the population, especially in London and other cities, had lost interest in preparing good food or had forgotten how to do it.
A whole generation, including those who had always had a cook before the war and those straight out of school, needed to be instructed in basic cookery skills. The nation had become used to cooking with Spam and dried eggs and was bewildered by fresh ingredients. This led to the development of ‘The Good Food Guide’, first published in 1951 when 5,000 copies were sold.
Food technology profited from research during the Second World War. The most significant advancement was in the preservation of food by freezing. No homes yet had freezers, so frozen fruit and vegetables were bought for immediate use, saving time and eliminating waste. Freezing remained at a basic level for many years, but the rise in home freezers in the 1970s saw a refinement of the technique.
One result of growing cultural diversity, especially in London, has been an increase in the variety of ‘ethnic’ and exotic food available to purchase. Some Asian ingredients not known in the UK before the Second World War include aubergines, chillies and coriander. Some examples of Caribbean food readily available today are plantains, mangoes, yams, okra and pumpkins. In addition, foreign travel has become more accessible and affordable, and so eating habits have adapted to include foreign dishes first tasted and enjoyed abroad.
Many other eating habits changed in the late 20th century. In the 1980s, there was a move from butter to soft margarines and reduced-fat spreads. Harder cooking fats became less popular, and many people now use vegetable oils such as olive oil, which was available only in chemists until the 1970s.
The first domestic microwave oven was sold in the United Kingdom in 1974. As the popularity of microwaves increased, more people chose from a wider variety of frozen and chilled meat products and ready-prepared meals instead of cooking meals from scratch.
At the end of the 20th century, the average household consumed fewer calories that its 1960s equivalent, although that did not include food eaten outside the home. However, there are increasing numbers of people who are overweight or obese. Reasons for this may include the facts that people are less active and so need less energy from food; that people are eating less food at home and dining out more often; or that the consumption of snacks and sweets may actually be higher than suggested by surveys.