Rationing during wartime

Hanging on my kitchen wall is a framed copy of the New York Times front page from the day I was born. Almost all the headlines are about the war, World War II.

So in a way it’s boring. Only to a war historian would military actions many decades afterward be compelling.

There’s one piece of news, though, that I’m now finding interesting: coffee rationing had just begun.

Rationing. On that day and for the previous week all coffee sales had been halted so dealers could get prepared for the rationing. There were already shortages in cocoa, chocolate, canned milk and butter substitutes. Heavy cream had been banned. People received coupons in little booklets for rationed goods; they had to restrict their own purchases in accordance with those coupons.

That list of rationed goods was in the very short part of the article which appeared on the Times’ front page. It made me curious. What else had been rationed in the US after our entry into World War II?

The first product to be rationed was sugar. Of course. Then automobiles and their tires, and gasoline to run those cars. Fuel oil, coal, and firewood to heat houses, schools and businesses. Nylon, silk, and shoes to wear. Meat, dried fruits, jams, jellies, lard, shortening, and oils to eat.

That’s only a partial list of the restricted goods.

Some results of rationing were salubrious. People switched from car travel to public transportation and bicycling (although bicycle sales themselves were rationed after a while). Cooking and eating became more inventive. Restaurants promoted nights of meatless meals, and mac and cheese were the craze out of which Kraft made a lot of money. Recipes for meals absent rationed foodstuffs were published.

Synthetic fibers were being developed before WWII. Further development was spurred by the war effort.

World War II rationing began to end in mid-1945. For nearly four years, American families coped with radical restrictions to their normal lives. From everything I’ve read, Great Britain fared much worse than we did; rationing there continued until the mid-1950s.

I can’t find any information about rationing for subsequent wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the end, rationing is a temporary stricture which — because human beings are so creative and flexible — can lead to expansive prospects.

Right now we’re not going to get a government-instituted rationing program for gas. (Although it’s sort of a kick to imagine how the anti-vaxxing, pro-COVID, Freedom-to-Die trucker convoys — the one wandering around Maryland without much of a purpose, for instance — would react if Joe Biden rationed gas.)

But we can self-ration, can’t we?

Who can tell how innovative and rapid our conversion from fossil fuels to green technology will be?

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