This year of 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. No words can adequately express how amazing were the people who lived through those times and faced such uncertainty, horror and trials. In commemoration of that anniversary, this month I am spotlighting the World War II time period and its food history. V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) falls on May 8. It was the beginning of the end of World War II.
When most people think of World War II, the major food history event that they think of is food rationing. But what exactly was food rationing? How did it work? What was rationed?
Rationing began in America in 1942, but it had started earlier in Britain in 1940. Rationing of any kind means the controlled distribution of commodities in high demand. For America, in order to make sure that their soldiers fighting abroad had enough of what they needed, the government decided to establish food rationing.
Each family in America was issued a ration book. These books held stamps or coupons which each family could redeem when they chose for a limited amount of a commonly used item. Many items were rationed over the course of the war. Sugar and coffee were two of the first items to be rationed followed soon by meat, cheese, butter, canned milk, dried fruit, jams and jellies. Non-food items were also rationed like gasoline, nylon, silk and rubber.
There were ways to get around rationing though. If a special occasion was coming up, families would save their ration stamps over time in order to be able to get more of an item so that they could enjoy a wedding cake, for instance. Sometimes many people would come together and pool their stamps to help another family or community member out.
Victory gardens and owning your own animals were another way to get around rationing. There was no rationing on what you grew or slaughtered or churned yourself. Many companies also experimented with substitutes for commonly used items. Corn syrup was often used in place of sugar and many recipe books came out with recipes for home cooks on how to use less flour, butter and sugar.
Just as the soldier’s fought on the front lines, the people on the home front fought doing what they could with food rationing. Food rationing changed the way that people thought about food and helped them get creative with what they had available. When the war was over, food rationing stopped, but tastes had changed somewhat and the 1950s and 1960s saw a surge in acceptance of new foods and cuisines.