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Wher rice from in WW2?
December 28, 2005 4:59 AM   Subscribe

I ate a lot of rice pudding in WW2. Where did the rice come from?

As a child in England, I remember eating a lot of rice pudding during the 2nd World War. Where did the rice come from? India? China? Was it aid from the USA? It has always bothered me and now I have somewhere to ask. Oh, the joy of the internet.
posted by priorpark17 to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
South Carolina? At a guess. Interesting question.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 AM on December 28, 2005


it seems to be mainly burma (and perhaps thailand), but i cant find a good single link, just lots of hints. have to go out now, will try again later.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:25 AM on December 28, 2005


Thailand was occupied by the Japanese, so I'd be surprised if they allowed rice to be exported to the UK. Also, the Trading with the Enemy Act would forbid that too.

I'd guess most non native foodstuffs arrived on the Atlantic convoys from the US.
posted by the cuban at 5:35 AM on December 28, 2005


I was going to say India, but apparently the Britished used the rice there to feed soldiers. They may have sent some back home as well? (The Bengal famine is discussed here: Bombs over Bongs - Sepia Mutiny)
posted by chunking express at 6:43 AM on December 28, 2005


yeah, sorry, from 1942 neither of those look promising. sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:22 AM on December 28, 2005


Indigo Jones' guess is worth exploring. The U.S. produces a lot of rice in the damp, warm climate of the Southeast. The USDA says that though it amounts to only 1.5-2% of global production, it is a major export. Perhaps this was one of the goods shipped to the UK as part of the "Food for Britain" campaign. In fact, one of the major reasons for rationing to have happened in the U.S. was not to reserve food for American soldiers, but to support the civilian populations of our more beleagured allies in Europe, China, and Russia.
posted by Miko at 8:09 AM on December 28, 2005


The U.S. delivered several million tons of food to Great Britain from 1941-1945.

The U.S. grows rice in lots of places: Carolinas and Georgia, Arkansas, California, Louisiana... Domestic beers are made with rice - Budweiser, the king of rice.

I think putting those two together, you have your answer.
posted by jellicle at 9:02 AM on December 28, 2005


Domestic beers are made with rice.

A thing I probably should have known but did not. Joy of the internet, indeed. Thank you, jellicle. (It may explain my distaste for much American beer.)
posted by IndigoJones at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2005


What a cool question.
posted by docpops at 11:01 AM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]


This really is a fantastic question. While I've no primary source materials to reference, it seems like the rice must have come from the states. It'd be pretty tough to get rice out of India and through Europe or the Mediterranean during the war.

But this raises a lot of interesting questions about how diet is affected by war and rationing. I wonder what other foods came into Britain via the US. What recipes and traditions grew up in the US due to rationing, etc. Fascinating stuff.
posted by aladfar at 1:46 PM on December 28, 2005


What recipes and traditions grew up in the US due to rationing, etc.

Well, for one example, rhubarb pie sharply fell in popularity and never really regained its prominence in American cooking after the war. That's because rhubarb is pretty bitter on its own, and with the wartime sugar rationing, it was less likely to be made at home, and foods like apple pie, which are tart but still edible with less sugar, were preferred instead.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:09 PM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]


I found this, which doesn't answer your question concretely, but does hint that England imported rice from Burma (if India, which was under British rule imported rice from there, odds are England did too):

The shortages were largely caused by the economic disruptions of the war. From Keay: India: A History "Rice imports from Burma had ceased with that country's occupation by the Japanese; domestic food-grains were in great demand for the military build-up in eastern India; and hoarding had resulted.
posted by Devils Slide at 2:22 AM on December 29, 2005


burma was the world's main exporter of rice (thailand second) just before ww 2. but as already noted they can't be the source of rice after 1942.

i was wondering if it was early in the war (which started in 39 from a british pov) when people ate so mcuh rice pudding, but could find nothing to confirm/deny that.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:50 AM on December 29, 2005


Thanks for everybody's help. Burma fell to the Japanese in December 1941 and rice went on the ration from Jan 1942. From this I am now guessing the rice was from Burma. If we had a sack of rice in the larder from before it went on ration it would have lasted a good while. Thanks again for the help.
posted by priorpark17 at 7:45 AM on December 29, 2005


The three volumes devoted to Food, in the official History of the Second World War, provide a definitive answer to this question.

Before the war, imports of rice to Great Britain came from the following countries:
20% from Canada
18% from Continental Europe
12% from Iraq and Iran
12% from the Soviet Union
17% from the USA and South America.

In 1944, imports of rice to Great Britain came from the following countries:
58% from the USA
31% from Argentina and Brazil.

(Source: R.J. Hammond, Food (History of the Second World War; 1951), vol. 2, p. 395.)

So Miko, jellicle and others are right: most of the rice imported into Britain during the war came from America, under the Lend/Lease agreement. (The loss of Burma did not affect supplies of rice in Britain, as most of the rice from Burma was exported to India and Ceylon.)

In 1941-3, the Ministry of Food built up a large stockpile of various foodstuffs, including rice pudding, to serve as an emergency supply in the event of a German invasion. In 1944 it was decided that there was no longer any likelihood of a German invasion, so these stocks were dispersed. (By then, of course, much of the food was quite old, and had to be used up quickly.) And that is probably why you remember eating a lot of rice pudding as a child -- because the government had suddenly dumped a lot of cheap rice pudding onto the market.
posted by verstegan at 8:50 AM on December 29, 2005 [64 favorites]


wow. thanks!
posted by andrew cooke at 9:09 AM on December 29, 2005


Do you want to be on my quiz team? Hells bells that is the best "best answer" I have ever seen.
posted by priorpark17 at 11:09 AM on December 29, 2005 [6 favorites]


Great answer, verstegan.

I didn't know Iran exported rice to Britain. There's a story about an Iranian prime minister visiting India many decades ago, and secretly smuggling out Basmati rice seeds in his cane (India was trying to protect its exports). Since then, Iran has grown [at least some of] its own Basmati rice.
posted by Devils Slide at 10:35 PM on December 29, 2005


I think it was silkworms in the cane from China to Constantinople.
posted by priorpark17 at 12:55 AM on December 30, 2005 [1 favorite]


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