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History Of United States Food Rationing

April 15, 2019 5 min read

  The United States has always thought of itself as the “land of abundance, “ but ask anyone who was on the “home front” during World War II about the bounty that America offers and the conversation will quickly turn to rationing.

During the war, Americans quickly became familiar with the slogan “Do with less, so they’ll have enough!” In the winter of 1941, the effects of rationing started to spread through the country. By 1943, it became every citizen’s duty to cut back on their consumption of meat, sugar, coffee, canned foods, fruits and vegetables, fuel, shoes, and other consumer goods. By spring 1943, the federal Office of Price Administration (an organization created by the government to control money and rents after the outbreak of World War II) had implemented a points system for food and other supplies. Each item was given a number of points needed for purchase. For example, proteins, such as sirloin were 9 points per pound and a can of pineapple was 24. Fresh produce and baked goods were exempt. Families got coupon books (or stamps) from government agencies and submitted them during purchase. Each household got roughly 50 points per month. The war was in full effect and those trying to get by at home were juggling points in order to keep their families fed. Many even planted “victory gardens” to supplement store-bought supplies.


Here is closer look at why some of these items were on the rationing list:



This is where Japan made its mark on how Americans functioned during the war. In 1942, rubber tree plantations in Southeast Asia were the primary suppliers of the world’s natural rubber. The Japanese quickly occupied these plantations early in the war and cut off the production and supply to the United States. American factories were converted to produce military supplies and called upon the public to turn in any scrap of rubber they could find. They were asked to give up garden hoses, raincoats, old tires, gloves, and rubber shoes for recycling. New tires were almost non-existent or impossible to buy. Some citizens claim to have lined the inside of their tires with newspaper to make them last longer. When it came to gasoline, drivers received stamps according to their needs. Farmers and newspaper carriers got more, but a “nonessential” driver was allowed enough fuel to drive roughly 3,000 miles per year. The rationing of fuel was not so much to save fuel as to save tires and the rubber they were made of.


This was the first item of food that was heavily rationed. In 1942 imports from Hawaii and the Philippines were cut off due to the war with Japan. This reduced the United States sugar supply by more than a third. The OPA quickly made it illegal to purchase sugar without government issued stamps. This continued until 1947 when sugar supplies returned to normal and could be legally purchased without stamps.


The military required enormous amounts of food in order to feed the soldiers. Keep in mind; many of these soldiers were the age of “he’s a growing boy,” (barely legal and often younger) which meant their bodies required a hefty amount of fuel to maintain energy. Tromping through the jungle, digging foxholes in the snow, and the all around the physical demand of war required a colossal amount of food to be supplied from the states. Meat/protein was no exception and those trying to make ends meet back at home had to tighten their belts in the protein department. The government limited the amounts of meat shipped to grocery stores and restaurants and set a “voluntary ration” of 2 and ½ lbs of red meat, per week, per adult. Many families saved stamps for holiday dinners, but stores often did not receive what the government promised to supply. This caused many families to celebrate Christmas without any source of protein during their holiday meals. Citizens who lived in San Diego at the time often crossed the border into Mexico in hope of finding stocked shelves. The shortage was considered a “government blunder.”

Canned Goods

In 1943, the OPA allotted 48 points to citizens per month for canned, dried, and frozen foods. 1 lb. 3 oz. can of tomatoes was 16 points, 1 lb. 14 oz. can of peaches was 21 points, and 2 lb. 14 oz. can of tomato juice was 32 points… 48 points per month were extremely minimal, not only for an individual but for those trying to feed a whole family. This is also the time when “new ration books” came out. They covered all rationed foods and products and stopped citizens from sharing points with others. To make sure they were not gifted, borrowed, or sold to other individuals each book required the name, age, sex, weight, and height of the person whom it was issued. This was an attempt to prevent black market sales and hoarding.

Waste Fats

“Homemakers” – aka women – were urged to save grease and waste fat from meat drippings and return them to their local butcher. Butchers would purchase the leftover fat and sell it to rendering plants so that they could process them into explosives. Women re-used fat for frying as often as possible because oils and butter were all rationed.


Yep, even typewriters were scarce and required special certificates or “proof of need” to purchase or even own. The military needed many typewriters for communication during the war, which put them on the rationed list and made them a luxury item. The great citizens of America know that this is the land of the free – the home of the brave. However, ignorance does not always end in bliss. This great country has fallen on hard times and is absolutely capable of seeing a repeat of past experiences. Our countries food waste is embarrassing (at best), especially for those who lived through the “food rationing” era. The struggle for some to feed their family is as real as the uncaring or ignorant behavior that others have when it comes to wasting food. We may not be in the midst of a World War, but the war on hunger in the United States is real and (unfortunately) a war that many “turn the other cheek” at. This is something that we all can work towards changing.

Be aware of how much food you purchase, consume, and waste. As for the future, being prepared is always going to be your best bet. America relies heavily on other countries to supply us with food and other necessary goods and there are no guarantees that they will continue to be available.

Food storage and smart purchasing can be your best friends in the event that supplies become scarce or nonexistent. Rationing happened once and it can happen again, so start preparing today to avoid hardship in the future.