Britain should ‘bring back restaurants run by state’ amid cost of living crisis


Henry Dimbleby, who founded ‘healthy’ fast food chain Leon, said there is ‘definitely a case’ for the Government re-introducing so-called British Restaurants across the country, which offer cheap and healthy meals 

Britain should bring back WW2-era communal kitchens to ensure people don’t starve during the cost of living crisis, MPs heard today.

Henry Dimbleby, No10’s food tsar and founder of ‘healthy’ chain Leon, claimed there is ‘definitely a case’ for re-introducing ‘British Restaurants’ to offer cheap and healthy meals across the country this winter.

The Eton- and Oxford-educated millionaire said the Government should make use of ‘extraordinary’ school kitchens to dish out meals to millions.

The community kitchen initiative was first brought in by wartime Food Minister Lord Woolton to boost the nation’s health and strength during WW2. 

More than 2,000 dining halls — run by local authorities and volunteers in schools, town halls and hospitals — served up around 180million meals a week to the public for as little as 30p.

Mr Dimbleby’s comments were in response to an MP saying that community kitchens are ‘needed’ as soaring prices force millions to go without food.

The average Brit is expected to see their annual energy bill soar to above £4,300 by the spring, while food, fuel, and mortgage or rental costs continue to soar.

Charities have raised the alarm that food banks are at breaking point and having to ration provisions, millions are skipping meals and starving pupils are eating rubbers and stealing food. 

More than 2,000 dining halls — run by local authorities and volunteers in schools, town halls and hospitals — served up around 180million meals a week to the public for as little as 30p. Pictured: people eating a meal at a British Restaurant in London in 1943

More than 2,000 dining halls — run by local authorities and volunteers in schools, town halls and hospitals — served up around 180million meals a week to the public for as little as 30p. Pictured: people eating a meal at a British Restaurant in London in 1943

The community kitchen initiative was first spearheaded by wartime Food Minister Lord Woolton to boost the nation's health and strength during WW2. Pictured: people looking at a menu outside a British Restaurant in 1940

The community kitchen initiative was first spearheaded by wartime Food Minister Lord Woolton to boost the nation’s health and strength during WW2. Pictured: people looking at a menu outside a British Restaurant in 1940

British Restaurants were initially set up to offer cheap meals to those on low incomes. But many more turned to the sites — including those whose homes had been bombed and people who did not have access to food at work. Pictured: people queuing for British Restaurant

British Restaurants were initially set up to offer cheap meals to those on low incomes. But many more turned to the sites — including those whose homes had been bombed and people who did not have access to food at work. Pictured: people queuing for British Restaurant 

The self-service canteens served up British staples, such as Shepherd’s Pie and carrots (which cost six pence, equating to 90p now), soup (two pence, 30p), and tea (one pence, 15p). The Government supplied ingredients and cooking equipment to the restaurants, as well as meals to sites that didn't have kitchens. Pictured: customers in London looking at a British Restaurant menu during WW2

The self-service canteens served up British staples, such as Shepherd’s Pie and carrots (which cost six pence, equating to 90p now), soup (two pence, 30p), and tea (one pence, 15p). The Government supplied ingredients and cooking equipment to the restaurants, as well as meals to sites that didn’t have kitchens. Pictured: customers in London looking at a British Restaurant menu during WW2 

What were British restaurants? 

British Restaurants were initially set up to offer cheap meals to those on low incomes. 

But many more turned to the sites — including those whose homes had been bombed and people who did not have access to food at work. 

The self-service canteens served up British staples, such as Shepherd’s Pie and carrots (which cost six pence, equating to 90p now), soup (two pence, 30p), and tea (one pence, 15p).

The Government supplied ingredients and cooking equipment to the restaurants, as well as meals to sites that didn’t have kitchens. 

Despite feeding millions of Britons every week, the Government withdrew funding for communal kitchens in 1947, causing the scheme to wind down — although some continued for another decade through community support.  

 

Mr Dimbleby made the comments to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee during a meeting for its inquiry into food security.

Ian Byrne, Labour MP for West Derby in Liverpool, said the cost of living crisis calls for a ‘public health intervention’ and pointed to community kitchens, which ended up slowly closing when the war was over.

He asked whether the Government should ‘cast aside the nanny-state ideology and do what’s right for public health’.

Mr Dimbleby, son of veteran BBC broadcaster David Dimbleby and grandson of late war correspondent Richard Dimbleby, told MPs: ‘I think my position has changed a little bit on this. 

‘I’d always been pro universal free school meals — not just increasing to universal credit.

‘One of my advisory panel — Paul Clarke, who was at the time the CTO of Ocado — made consistent arguments for bringing back British Restaurants run by the state after the war that fed cheap meals. 

‘As a restauranteur, I knew how difficult it was anyway to run decent restaurants and I thought the state would do a bad job of it. 

‘But I do think the more I think about it, looking at the holiday activity on food programmes, that we do have these extraordinary assets which are school kitchens.

‘During the pandemic, my charity Chefs in Schools, we started cooking in them and delivering food to the community. 

‘And I think in some communities there is definitely a case for that. I’m not sure you’d do it in all communities.’

Henry Dimbleby: The ‘obese’ millionaire who wants to tax your food  

Oxford and Eton educated businessman Henry Dimbleby – the co-founder of fast-food chain Leon – is the man behind the Government’s war on snacks.

The son of broadcaster David Dimbleby and his cookery writer wife Josceline, he is the writer of the National Food Strategy.

Dimbleby, 52, studied at Eton – where he was a contemporary of Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg – before going on to Oxford University. 

Like both of his parents, he would soon find his way into journalism, as a food writer for the Daily Telegraph – having initially worked as a commis chef under Michelin-starred chef Bruno Loubet.

Dimbleby would later join a consultancy firm, before launching ‘healthy’ fast-food chain Leon alongside entrepreneur John Vincent and chef Allegra McEvedy in 2004.

The chain was sold earlier this year for a reported £100m. 

He also co-founded the Sustainable Restaurants Association in 2009, and The London Union, which controls some of the capital’s biggest street food markets.

With the help of Vincent, Dimbleby also turned his hand to campaigning, and the pair were later invited by David Cameron’s Tory government to write a report into school meals. The report earned both Dimbleby and Vincent MBEs.   

Despite being a food tsar, he says he has a ‘conscious struggle’ with obesity.

He told The Guardian he ‘oscillates between the high end of healthy weight and the low end of obese’. 

‘I wouldn’t recommend any diets that I have used,’ he said.

Mr Byrne said a school kitchen in his constituency, West Derby, last week offered dinner to pupils, their parents and extended family ‘in the warm’, which was a ‘massive success’. 

‘The utilisation of schools in this current crisis could be absolutely crucial for our communities,’ he said.

Mr Dimbleby pointed to a similar project he oversaw in Hackney during the school holidays, which offered free meals to pupils and charged parents just £2.

He said: ‘You had a complete mix of kids at school — my kids went because they wanted to be with their friends who were going, and actually it really brought the community together. 

‘And it didn’t feel like a food bank. It felt joyful and it was a fantastic experience.’

Mr Dimbleby also called for an ‘almost immediate’ increase in free school meals as families struggle with the cost-of-living crisis.

He told MPs that expanding provision was ‘one of the best measures we can do’ to address the impacts of the rising cost of living.

British Restaurants were initially set up to offer cheap meals to those on low incomes. 

But many more turned to the sites — including those whose homes had been bombed and people who did not have access to food at work. 

The self-service canteens served up British staples, such as Shepherd’s Pie and carrots (which cost six pence, equating to 90p now), soup (two pence, 30p), and tea (one pence, 15p).

The Government supplied ingredients and cooking equipment to the restaurants, as well as meals to sites that didn’t have kitchens. 

Despite feeding millions of Britons every week, the Government withdrew funding for communal kitchens in 1947, causing the scheme to wind down — although some continued for another decade through community support.  

Mr Dimbleby authored a Government-commissioned review of Britain’s food system, which called for a tax to incentivise healthier recipe reformulation or smaller portion sizes.

The tax would have seen a £3 tax per kg of sugar and a £6 per kg tax of salt sold for use in processed foods, in restaurants and catering businesses.

He said the move would have raised up to £4billion to spend on getting fresh food to poorer households, such as by expanding free school meals and enabling GPs to prescribe fruit and vegetables to patients suffering from diet-related illness or food insecurity.

Born in May 1970, Mr Dimbleby attended Eton College, where he studied at the same time as Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. He then went onto Oxford University where he read physics and philosophy.

Like both of his parents, he would soon find his way into journalism, as a food writer for the Daily Telegraph — having initially worked as a commis chef under Michelin-starred chef Bruno Loubet.

In a profile on the Leon website, Mr Dimbleby is said to have been ‘too messy to survive in a professional kitchen’ and had a dislike of ‘pre-made sandwiches served from neon-lit chiller cabinets’.

He left the Telegraph to work for management consultancy firm Bain & Company where he met Mr Vincent — and they then launched Leon together with chef Ms McEvedy in 2004.

Nearly 20 years later, Blackburn billionaire brothers Mohsin Issa and Zuber Issa, who own supermarket giant Asda, bought the Leon chain in April this year for a reported £100million.

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