History Of United States Food Rationing

April 15, 2019 6 min read

united states rationing food

Rationed Foods have been a part of American culture since the first World War.

During WWII, rationing of food and other goods became a must for all Americans.

Since then, the United States has always thought of itself as the “land of abundance.”

With recent events and the ever-changing landscape of the planet, it’s more important now than ever to be ready for anything, so rationing food will never be a problem for you.

Today, we are taking you through the history of rationing food so that you can learn from it and not repeat the same mistakes made in the past.

Let’s get started!

Rationing Food in World War I

world war 1 rationing ad

Although the United States did not have rationed foods in the first world war, there were countless propaganda campaigns to persuade citizens to curb their food consumption.

These campaigns started to happen because many of America’s allies in Europe were facing starvation as farms had been turned into battlefields or left to rot as the farmers were forced into warfare.

President Woodrow Wilson appointed future President Herbert Hoover to develop a voluntary program to manage and establish a wartime supply conservation program named the U.S. Food Administration.

Famous catchphrases include: “Food Will Win the War,” “Meatless Meals,” and “Wheat-less Wednesdays.”

These slogans were so successful that the USDA reduced the national consumption by 15% during WWI.

This voluntary showing of patriotism by many in America helped prepare citizens for the second World War, and the rationing needed then.

Rationed Foods in World War II

world war 2 rationing food

Almost immediately after the US entered WWII after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was evident that the voluntary conservation would not be enough.

On January 30, 1942, the Emergency Price Control Act was passed, granting the Office of Price Administration (OPA) the authority to set price limits, rationed foods, and other items that were needed on the war front.

It became so bad that Americans weren’t able to purchase sugar without a government-issued food coupon.

Vouchers were introduced for meat, cheese, fats, canned fish, canned milk, and other processed foods that had been added to the list of rationed provisions.

Families got coupon books (or stamps) from government agencies and submitted them during purchase. Each household got roughly 50 points per month.

The OPA allotted a certain amount of points to each food item based on its availability.

Customers were allowed to use 48 “blue points” to buy canned, bottled, or dried foods, and 64 “red points” to buy meat, fish, and dairy each month—that is, if the items were in stock at the market.

Fresh produce and baked goods were exempt leading many families to start their own "victory gardens" to supplement store-bought supplies.

Goods Rationed During WWII

Here's a breakdown of some of the biggest goods rationed during World War II. 

Rubber

rubber tires

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 rubber scrap 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.

Sugar

sugar

This was the first item of food that became one of the heavily rationed foods.

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.

Protein

proteins

The military required enormous amounts of food 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 overall physical demand of war required a colossal amount of food to be supplied from the states.

Meat/protein was no exception for rationed foods, 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 often crossed the border into Mexico in the hope of finding stocked shelves.

The shortage was considered a “government blunder.”

Canned Goods

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 to process them into explosives.

Women re-used fat for frying as often as possible because oils and butter were all rationed foods.

Typewriters

typewriter

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, putting them on the rationed foods list and making them a luxury item.

Conclusion - Rationing Food in The United States

This great country has fallen on hard times and is capable of seeing a repeat of past experiences.

Our countries food waste is embarrassing (at best), especially for those who lived through the “rationed foods” era.

The struggle for some to feed their family is as real as the uncaring or ignorant behavior that others have when 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.

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 if supplies become scarce or nonexistent.

If you want to start building your food storage to prevent ever being affected by rationing, click here to check out Valley Food Storage’s long-term food kits that last up to 25 years.

Rationing happened once, and it can happen again, so start preparing today to avoid hardship in the future.