Rationing was introduced temporarily by the British government several times during the 20th century, during and immediately after a war.
At the start of the Second World War in 1939, the United Kingdom imported 20,000,000 long tons of food per year, including about 70 percent of its cheese and sugar, nearly 80 percent of fruits and about 70 percent of cereals and fats. The UK also imported more than 50 percent of its meat and relied on imported feed to support its domestic meat production. The civilian population of the country was about 50 million. It was one of the principal strategies of the Germans in the Battle of the Atlantic to attack shipping bound for Britain, restricting British industry and potentially starving the nation into submission.
To deal with sometimes extreme shortages, the Ministry of Food instituted a system of rationing. To buy most rationed items, each person had to register at chosen shops and was provided with a ration book containing coupons. The shopkeeper was provided with enough food for registered customers. Purchasers had to take ration books with them when shopping, so the relevant coupon or coupons could be cancelled.
In line with its business as usual policy during the First World War, the government was initially reluctant to try to control the food markets. It fought off efforts to try to introduce minimum prices in cereal production, though relenting in the area of controlling of essential imports (sugar, meat, and grains). When it did introduce changes, they were limited in their effect. In 1916, it became illegal to consume more than two courses while lunching in a public eating place or more than three for dinner; fines were introduced for members of the public found feeding the pigeons or stray animals.