Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Adventures in Eating

    America's entry into World War II led to the necessity of feeding a huge military force overseas. The draft caused an agricultural labor shortage, and import reductions limited the supply of such things as coffee and sugar. Gasoline and tire rationing further limited transport of fresh foods.
    In May of 1942, the Office of Price Administration froze prices to avoid the inflation experienced during World War I. To fairly distribute foods in short supply, rationing was begun. Sugar rationing started in May of 1943. Later food stuffs included coffee, processed foods, red meats, dairy products, and fats.

This cartoon showed that rationing was necessary so each family got its fair share of products in short supply due to military needs or import reductions.
    Rationed items received a point value which changed with the ebb and flow of supply and demand. Businesses published monthly ration calendars showing the status of categories of items. To prevent hoarding, each ration stamp was good for a designated time and authorized a designated quantity.

Stamps had expiration dates and their worth often changed on a daily basis. Rationed items displayed points and price. Shoppers paid the grocer in stamps as well as cash.
    Foods not rationed included fresh produce, eggs, poultry, fish, and fresh milk. Canned foods were rationed because Japan controlled most of the world's tin, and what the US had was needed by the military. Americans were strongly urged to plant Victory Gardens and can their harvest for the winter months.

If you bought three cans of peas, your allotment of 48 points worth
of canned, dried, and frozen foods was used up for the month.
    Reading wartime letters reveal life with rationing. One wife wrote to her air corps husband, "We've been canning tomatoes almost all day and it's a long job. All I did was skin tomatoes--and more tomatoes! It's a good thing to can though, for if you get them in the stores by the can, you have to use so many ration points."
    Having ration stamps didn't guarantee finding a product. Another wife wrote, "I could not get fresh meat of any kind, but found that Spam fried in butter made a very tasty Easter dinner," and "Meat seems almost non-existent although last Friday, Mrs. Smith and I happened to be in the Piggly Wiggly just as five hams arrived, so we pooled our ration points and bought one together, having it split down length-wise so as to have it evenly divided. Potatoes have entirely disappeared and we are substituting macaroni and rice."
    Newspapers and magazines offered meatless recipes. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in its familiar blue box soared in popularity as a substitute for meat. Cottage cheese also saw a significant sales increase. Soft cheeses were easier to find than hard cheeses, which shipped well to the troops.
    A wartime cookbook extolled the eagerness of the modern woman to pit her intelligence against the knotty problem of rationing. "She will need to learn not only to prepare all the foods needed in her household, but to raise her own garden and poultry and save every last bit, as has not been done in several generations." All this, while at the same time, she was encouraged to take on a war job.
Even chocolate was scarce,
being an import.
    Give up chocolate? Considering what the troops were sacrificing, including their lives, it was a small concession. What would you have missed?


  1. My mother still has an old ration book. She said that eggs, sugar and flour were almost impossible to get. So you could forget about making a cake.

    I think I would have missed having more choices.

  2. I think that knowing there were so many items that weren't available would have been the most frustrating thing. And yes, I would miss chocolate!