Back in Time for Winter

No one snacked in the '40s 

Rationing, and a different attitude towards food, meant that between meal noshing was a no-go in wartime

Rationing, and a different attitude towards food, meant that between meal noshing was a no-go in wartime

During World War Two, feeding a family on rations was a massive challenge for housewives. (3Bird Media)

One of the best things about modern era living — next to universal health care and Friends binge-watching — is our bounty of snack foods and snack opportunities. Can you imagine a time when snacks weren't a "thing?" No? Well, the Carlson's lived it on Back in Time for Winter. Welcome to the 1940s. 

Snacks and "snacking" are modern conventions, and we should pay homage to those who came before us that had to go without. The very concept of food between meals — sometimes eaten for no hunger-related reason — came into vogue decades past the '40s. Popularized snacking post-1940s was, in a way, a harbinger of other modern ideas, like the Metric system, "being bored" and self-esteem for children. Parents, can you imagine raising kids without your modern "go-bag" of cheese fishy crackers or squeeze packs of applesauce? 

Today, if you're peckish between meals, it's easy to find a snack to assuage your hunger. In fact, it's hard to avoid snacks. They're everywhere. These days, you can practically get a steak dinner handed to you through a drive-thru window. Snacks can even be delivered curbside in minutes provided you have a cell phone and debit card. 

In the 1940s, however, they didn't have cell phones or debit cards, and they didn't really have snacks, either. Snacking wasn't something people thought about. Who had time for manually heating queso cheese to pour over corn chips? People were busy; there was a war on, for crying out loud! Rations were real and any snacking outside of set meal times was frivolous and/or unnecessary. Spare time was used for smoking, perfecting Bette Davis-style wave sets, and saving the world from Nazis. 

Our relationship with food has changed in big ways since the 1940s. Wartime rationing sparked creative cooking to stretch often scarce ingredients and simple, functional meals were eaten sitting down in your home. A "fun" treat was food that prevented rickets or scurvy. You want fancy? Pour some jam on your porridge! Look who's living the culinary dream now! 

Even a typical 1940s dessert – when it was to be had – was pretty lacklustre. It often came in the  form of a jellied mold, which was essentially water held together by invisible cow parts, sugar, and colour. If you were looking for decadence, you could add canned fruit or whipped cream. Voila, eat it up. There will be no snacking later. 

The Carlson's youngest daughter, Chelsey, waiting for a snack that isn't coming until the end of the war. (3Bird Media)

A '40s breakfast was offered in the early morning, lunch rang in at noon, and after school your time was used for chores, not chips. Most people didn't eat  before or after a meal, with perhaps one exception: going to the movies. Movies were an affordable form of escapism entertainment for people during the war even with austerity measures in place. Some amazing films were created by Hollywood during the tough war years, and while we're not taking away from the talent of the silver-screen era stars, it's not a stretch to think that a lot of a movie's draw came in the form of bags of warm food you could hold in your lap, like buttered popcorn or hot pretzels. 

The 1940s brought us a great generation of men and women who overcame less-than-stellar economies and a complicated political climate, only to face uncertainty heading into the 1950s. The world was changing – fast – and if you think it's hard to face a crappy day without a "comfort donut" today, imagine trying to do it in the 1940s when, for may, there was no guarantee of even having a tomorrow do-over. 

It's hard not to eat your feelings, especially when feelings taste like poutine gravy or cinnamon buns. Can you imagine fighting in a war or raising kids with a spouse overseas without cheese nip crackers and Uber Eats? The fact that people who lived in and through the 1940s did that and more without Doritos should only further endear them in the history books. 

Watch Back in Time for Winter Thursdays at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem.