Wednesday, April 8, 2020

SEASONED SOUTHERN STYLE: WWII Rationing and Today, Plus Two Economical Cake Recipes

As most of us do each night, I was watching the news updates about this new war we are in--the COVID-19 war. I watched in dismay at the long food lines, empty grocery store shelves, and the hunts for toilet paper. One young man, sitting in his car in line for food over an hour and a half stated that he had $4 in the bank, so it was worth the wait to obtain food for his family. Between the falling stock market and the unemployment, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities with the Great Depression. In most of our country, food is still available to buy, while some groceries are having a hard time getting shipments into their store in other places. Another thought occurred to me. Will we have to ration food again?

As an experiment, I decided in the fall of 2019 that I would go on a food ration diet, just to experience what it would be like. I was also interested because my health depends on how well I stay away from carbs and too many calories. In actuality I simply returned to the meals of my childhood. I have a cousin who is doing research, partially on our food and how it affects health. He has found that our bodies respond the best to the foods that are grown and prepared in the area in which we live. I found that to be true for myself. I also found that my ration diet was easy, as long as I had fresh vegetables available in the grocery store. What I wasn't prepared for was COVID-19 and the need to stay in for not just weeks but possibly months. My fresh vegetables ran out within ten days. At any given time I have frozen vegetables to fall back on because we live in a food desert as far as clean eating is concerned. My primary source for  grass-fed meat, organic veggies and fruit is an hour away. Even as we tried to shop for a few items locally, I found many parallels to WWII rationing, as some items were not available at all. My ration diet took on a new perspective, as I relied even more on family recipes to get us through and stretch our supply. But, as I have realized before, the recipes and foodways of my Delta family were carry-overs from the Great Depression and WWII rationing. It was a healthy way to eat. It was then and it is now. A healthy immune system is the body's biggest defense against disease.

In the spring of 1942, the Food Rationing Program legislation was passed in the United States. The federal government needed to control the supply and demand in order to prevent shortages and also to curb the purchase of commodities by those who had more money. Government ads, radio shows, posters and pamphlets urgently asked Americans to comply without complaint, for the war effort.
"Rationing regulated the amount of commodities that consumers could obtain. Sugar rationing took effect in May 1943 with the distribution of "Sugar Buying Cards." Registration usually took place in local schools. Each family was asked to send only one member for registration and be prepared to describe all other family members. Coupons were distributed based on family size, and the coupon book allowed the holder to buy a specified amount. Possession of a coupon book did not guarantee that sugar would be available. Americans learned to utilize what they had during rationing time.
While some food items were scarce, others did not require rationing, and Americans adjusted accordingly. "Red Stamp" rationing covered all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and with some exceptions, cheese. Each person was allowed a certain amount of points weekly with expiration dates to consider. "Blue Stamp" rationing covered canned, bottled, frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices and dry beans, and such processed foods as soups, baby food and ketchup. Ration stamps became a kind of currency with each family being issued a "War Ration Book." Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and time designated, and the book guaranteed each family its fair share of goods made scarce, thanks to the war.
Rationing also was determined by a point system. Some grew weary of trying to figure out what coupon went with which item, or how many points they needed to purchase them, while some coupons did not require points at all."

Life during the war meant daily sacrifice but few complained. They knew the men and women in uniform were making an even bigger one.

Sugar was the first commodity to be rationed, which probably plunged the general population into better health. Over the years, other items were added:
Sugar: May 1942 – 1947
Coffee: November 1942 – July 1943
Processed foods: March 1943- August 1945
Meats, canned fish: March 1943 – November 1945
Cheese, canned milk, fats: March 1943 – November 1945

With the rationing came recipes and tips on how to stretch the budget and the foods available. The government printed a monthly meal-planning guide with recipes and a daily menu. Good Housekeeping printed a special section for rationed foods in its 1943 cookbook. Numerous national publications also featured articles explaining what rationing meant to America. My collection over the years has included booklets from not only food companies but from appliance purchases and one from an insurance company, free cookbooks filled with ration-oriented recipes. Even Lysol offered a free "Victory Cook Book" of eighty-one recipes with every purchase. Ads in magazines and newspapers often included money and food stamp saving recipes. These types of ad recipes continued on into the 1950s and 60s.
As always, there were those who saw a way to profit from the rationing program. . .
"Then there were the food manufacturers who took advantage of the wartime shortages to flaunt their patriotism to their profit. The familiar blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner gained great popularity as a substitute for meat and dairy products. Two boxes required only one rationing coupon, which resulted in 80 million boxes sold in 1943. Food substitutions became evident with real butter being replaced with Oleo margarine. Cottage cheese took on a new significance as a substitute for meat, with sales exploding from 110 million pounds in 1930 to 500 million pounds in 1944."

Three years after rationing began, WWII came to a welcome end, but rationing itself did not end until 1946. My mother continued the techniques and recipes she had learned during the rationing period through her mother and her home economics courses, although she did add back desserts at every meal for her own sweet tooth.  Here are a couple from her booklet collection:

In this war with the COVID-19 virus, I must admit I do feel a bit of the WWII patriotism in providing healthy meals with limited ingredients. We have by no means gone hungry nor unsatisfied, but I do have to say that our waistlines are shrinking and our energy is higher. It has been fun making-do with the food on hand and the few items we found at the grocery.  I have also realized that we take unlimited supplies of groceries for granted. This has been a lesson for us all.

I'm thinking there might be more canning and freezing going on this summer. . .
How about you?

For more on the healthy WWII Ration Diet: CLICK HERE

I'll be back with specifics of the diet and more recipes.