Food and Rationing

The driving force of a nation is its ability to feed its people. A nation filled with hungry people is a nation that has neither strong soldiers nor strong civilian workers. Stability and security within such a nation often suffers. Canada's government was quick to realize in World War II that a well-fed military is a better fighting military. With so much riding on the wartime production of the home front, the government equally wanted well-fed civilians at home. Canada was also called upon to help feed the civilians of the war stricken countries. The method of achieving this was to keep the farmers on the land and to introduce rationing so that no one person would have more on his dinner plate than his neighbour or the soldier at the front.

The rules around rationing of food were strict. Prices were fixed along with the amount a person was allowed to buy. This made it very difficult for the storekeeper to make money unless he was willing to get involved in the black market. A food company asked women of the house to become Housoldiers and in this way fight for the war effort. Food rationing began in January 1942 with sugar being the first item on the list. Each person was allowed 12 ounces per week and later only 8 ounces. Sugar was used in the manufacturing of shells and bombs making it vital to the war effort. Tea and coffee were quickly added to the ration list since they came from other countries. Importing food became very difficult as many merchant ships were taken over by the military and many others were sunk by submarine warfare. As the war went on more items were added to the list, including butter, meat, maple syrup products, table syrups, apple or honey butter. With the war effort needing most of the available supplies of tin, canning factories had their supplies of cans cut leading to rationing of items that came in cans.

The people of Summerside managed fairly well with rationing. They already knew how to make a little go a long way because of the Depression. Unlike Canadians living in the cities, most people in Summerside still had relatives farming in the surrounding communities who were willing to share. While the land the Town of Summerside put aside for its people to grow Victory Gardens grew up in weeds, many people had their own backyard kitchen gardens. If a housewife applied ahead of time she could get extra sugar for making pickles and jams.

What was really difficult for the people of Summerside was when molasses was rationed. Molasses, a byproduct of sugar, was a staple for most Island families. They bought it by the gallon and used it for cooking, baking, and as a spread. Lunch for many Island schoolchildren would consist of a molasses sandwich and molasses cookies. Molasses was used in the production of synthetic rubber.

Things To Do!!!
  • Was Canada right to ration her people so she could help feed the people of other countries?
  • Canada took steps in the war to ensure the nation's food supply. Study the state of agriculture in Canada at the present time. Is the government of today taking steps to ensure her people will not experience widespread hunger?
  • Look at some world countries that have problems feeding their people. What are their economies like and what is the political stability of the government?
  • Visit with an older person in your community and find out from them the many ways they used molasses. Collect a recipe for molasses cookies and try it out in the kitchen. Homemade baked beans with molasses are also great.
  • Restaurants were also rationed. Tuesday was known as "Meatless Tuesday." Plan a menu for your restaurant for a Tuesday. Remember it is not just meat that is rationed.
  •   Shopping for the weekly groceries was much different for the housewife of the 1940s. The milkman delivered dairy products to the door. Many farmers still sold fresh produce door to door and meat was often purchased at an independent butcher shop. A blue token had to be presented to the butcher for the allotted two pounds of meat per person per week. The grocer sold canned goods and other necessities in bulk. Wrapping consisted of brown paper or paper bags. There was little garbage created.
    Something to Think About!!!
  • Extensive packaging was a post-war development. It creates excessive waste material that cannot be composted.
  • Is this merely a cost of doing business or harmful to the environment?
  • Look at your routine for one day. Break down your consumption into waste product, recyclable, and compost. Which category was most of your consumption in? Can you make changes? Do you feel the war model could work for us today? Check out the Island Waste Watch website for ideas.
  • Could your community survive on what is produced locally?
  • When food rationing was first introduced during World War II, Canadian households had to fill out an application form for the ration book and wait for it to be mailed to them on August 31, 1942. Islanders were slow to realize they needed the books and had to scramble to order them once they realized no coupon meant no product. This may have been one of the reasons Summerside got its own rationing board in November 1942. It was the board's job to give out ration books, explain the rules to people, and to enforce the rules. Yes, they enforced the rules. People were fined if they were caught with too much of anything. How do you suppose the board found these things out?

    People saved up supplies for special occasions like a wedding or birthday. It was illegal to exchange supplies with your neighbour until November 1943. Do you think the government was able to control housewives trading sugar for a bit of coffee? People often bought ration coupons from someone who didn't use all of their own.

    Fill out your ration book

    Rationing continued after the war because of the urgent need to feed the people of war-torn Europe. It took time for the people of these countries to put their land back into agricultural production. In many areas that had been bombed, unexploded bombs were found for years to come.