Lloyd Evans

Joanna Lumley and the art of food rationing

Joanna Lumley and the art of food rationing
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Well done, Joanna Lumley. The 75-year-old actress has solved the climate crisis. She proposes a return to wartime rationing when shoppers had to surrender government coupons whenever they bought meat, sugar, petrol, bread and even soap.

‘You’re given a certain amount of points,’ she told the Radio Times, ‘and it’s up to you how to spend them, whether it’s on a bottle of whisky or flying in an aeroplane.’

It sounds ideal. We can defeat the climate crisis by tightening our belts and agreeing to a common set of rules. And on Thursday evenings we’ll stand on our doorsteps flapping our ration-books and cheering like maniacs. However, it's likely that double standards will emerge. The elite will grant exemptions to themselves and their families. During the war, food rationing excluded the hospitality trade so anyone dining in a restaurant could order as they pleased because the ration-book was only demanded in high street shops. The result was positively feudal. The rich ate like kings while the poor scavenged like urban foxes on a waste-tip.

Rationing may create similar distortions. Public servants will enjoy five-star luxury fare which will be called ‘climate-nurturing’ while the food of honest citizens will be spurned as ‘climate-hostile’ and subject to severe taxes. If there are curbs on international travel our MPs will dodge them by designating their sunshine holidays as ‘fact-finding missions’. And we can expect them to concentrate their ‘fact-finding’ efforts on the gorgeous paradise islands of the south Pacific and the Indian ocean. Oddly enough, these beauty-spots are expanding their hotel capacity even though scientists warn that they will disappear beneath the rising oceans before Prince Harry turns 40.

But never mind the elite, the rest of us owe it to the planet to rein in our polluting habits. We have much to gain from exploring the world under our own steam. Instead of jetting off to the Caribbean, we can amble down to Lyme Regis in our clogs. Mountaineers will enjoy trekking to the Alps with their skis and poles in their handwoven knapsacks. Transatlantic travellers will set off from the west of Ireland in leather coracles crammed with Guinness and Kendal Mint Cake. And it’ll be standard practice for courting couples to canoe to Venice for a romantic weekend. There will be cheats, of course, but they will face the full fury of the law. Anyone found guilty of flying overseas more than once a year will be sentenced to ten weeks in Wormwood Scrubs, or to one night in Heathrow Express Holiday Inn, depending on how vindictive the judge is feeling.

Critics of Lumley point out that she has enjoyed a long and fulfilling life without the restrictions she seeks to impose on others. But she’s got her timing right. The young are more adaptable than the rest of us and they can lead the way. Kids nowadays know all about the scourge of cattle flatulence and they’re fully prepared for a Big Mac crackdown. One burger per child, per year, is plenty. It could be served as a birthday treat. And when they turn 18 they can have a quarter pounder with cheese. At graduation, they’ll enjoy their very first Big Tasty Bacon burger with pizza melts. It’s a better reward than a tatty black gown and a scroll of parchment.

And although it’s easy to mock Lumley’s proposals they carry more than a grain of wisdom. A luxury enjoyed every day is no longer a luxury. And scarcity is a great sharpener of the appetite. Our click-and-deliver culture has desensitised us to our own desires, and we could do with a reminder that the rarer the pleasure, the greater the relish.

Written byLloyd Evans

Lloyd Evans is The Spectator's sketch-writer and theatre critic

Topics in this articleWine and Food