The British Council has apologised to author George Orwell for commissioning and then rejecting an essay about British food in 1946. The organisation made amends by sharing recipes and the essay on its platform and social media.
Orwell is best known for his books 1984 and Animal Farm. He died in 1950.
Orwell’s essay describes the average British diet as “a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet, drawing much of its virtue from the excellence of the local materials, and with its main emphasis on sugar and animal fats”.
The rejection of the essay was a recent discovery in the organisation’s archives.
The British Council’s Publication Department had then written to the author informing him about the rejection. “I am so sorry such a seemingly stupid situation has arisen with your manuscript,” the letter had said while highlighting concerns about his “treatment of the painful subject of food in these times”.
The rejection letter was probably a reference to the time when food was being rationed in the country soon after World War II. The organisation, which promotes international relations, had commissioned the essay in a bid to boost the reputation of British cuisine in Europe.
The Publications Department had told Orwell that he had written an excellent essay “apart from one or two minor criticisms”, but that “it would be unfortunate and unwise” to publish it for the continental reader. Among the criticism, was a claim that Orwell’s recipe for orange marmalade contains “too much sugar and water”.
In its apology, the British Council said, “It seems that the organisation in those days was somewhat po-faced and risk-averse, and was anxious to avoid producing an essay about food [even one which mentions the disastrous effects of wartime rationing] in the aftermath of the hungry winter of 1945. A shorter version of the essay was later published in the [newspaper] Evening Standard.”