Rationing of meat and cheese was an
important part of life on the US Home Front. A complex and constantly changing
system kept grocery shoppers on their toes.
Why meat and cheese?
The United States produced meat and
cheese for her civilians and military, and also for her Allies. During World
War I, food shortages were a serious problem, with hoarding, escalating prices,
and rushes on stores. When World War II started, the government reduced deliveries
to stores and restaurants, instituted price controls, and urged people to
voluntarily reduce consumption. Britain had already instituted a point-based
rationing system and had found it effective, so the United States decided to
implement a similar program in 1943. Rationing made sure everyone got a fair
What was rationed?
On March 29, 1943, meats and cheeses
were added to rationing. Rationed meats included beef, pork, veal, lamb, and tinned
meats and fish. Poultry, eggs, fresh milk—and Spam—were not rationed. Cheese
rationing started with hard cheeses, since they were more easily shipped
overseas. However, on June 2, 1943, rationing was expanded to cream and cottage
cheeses, and to canned evaporated and condensed milk.
War Ration Books Two, Three, and Four contained
blue stamps for processed foods, and red stamps for meat, cheese, and fats.
Each person received 64 red stamps each month to provide 2 pounds of meat and 4
ounces of cheese per week. The stamps were printed with a number for point
value and a letter to specify the rationing period—such as B8. Rationing
calendars printed in newspapers notified people of which stamps were current
and for how long. To prevent fraud, the stamps had to be torn off in the presence
of the grocer. Stamps were good for eight, five, two, or one points each, with
no “change” given, so the shopper had to be careful to use the exact number of
stamps. The system was simplified on February 27, 1944, when plastic tokens
were issued as change.
Each cut of meat had a point value
assigned per pound, based not on price or quality, but on scarcity. These point
values varied throughout the war depending on supply and demand. “Variety
meats” such as kidney, liver, brain, and tongue had little use for the
military, so their point values were low. On May 3, 1944, thanks to a good
supply, all meats except steak and choice cuts of beef were removed from
|Safeway Ad in Antioch Ledger, July 1943|
As the Allies advanced, newly liberated
countries required food that their war-ravaged lands couldn’t produce. The United
States stepped forward to meet those needs, but shortages resulted on the Home
Front. For Thanksgiving in 1944, the supply of turkeys was short, and on
December 31, 1944, all meats were returned to rationing. Even with tightened
rationing, a serious meat shortage developed in the spring and summer of 1945.
San Diego reported a 55 percent decrease in the supply of meat, and in San
Francisco, only lamb and sausage were available. For the first time, even
chicken and eggs were in short supply. Things improved after the victory
parades, and on November 23, 1945 meat and cheese rationing came to an end.
Throughout the war, American housewives
learned to make do with less meat. Chicken and rabbit hutches sprang up in
backyards, and people were encouraged to fish. Patriotic citizens observed
“meatless Tuesdays” and cut meatless recipes out of newspapers and magazines.
Soups, stews, and casseroles helped stretch the meat ration, and housewives
learned to adapt recipes to organ meats and poultry.
How would you like to deal with meat and
Labels: cheese rationing, meat rationing, rationing in World War II, World War II