"==RATIONING==In the articles Food Supply and Savings Movement the general question of food control during the World War is dealt with. During 1914-8 most of the European states, belligerent and neutral, were driven, by shortage of supplies, to ration the consumption of the more important foods, and in some cases of other articles, by the civilian population. " Rationing," of course, is a term of military origin; it denotes the supplying to each member of a fighting force or a beleaguered population of a definite " ration," based upon calculation of his needs, of the supplies available, and of the period for which they must serve. The process of rationing, therefore, has two sides - negative and positive: the negative side of preventing any individual from obtaining, by purchase or otherwise, more than the authorized quantity of the rationed article, and the positive side of making it possible for each individual in fact to obtain that quantity. It is thus a problem both of restriction and of distribution, and the success of any rationing system may be judged even more by the degree to which the positive side is carried out, than by the completeness with which the prohibition upon excessive consumption is enforced.
In this respect the British system of food rationing had for the reasons mentioned below a relatively high measure of success and is therefore described here in some detail. The modified system adopted in the United States is dealt with in a final section. Besides food and feeding stuffs for animals, fuel and light were rationed in the United Kingdom, and both these and many other things, such as clothing, tobacco, matches and housing accommodation, were rationed in various enemy and neutral countries in Europe.
British Food Rationing Historical Sketch. - The earliest steps to the introduction of compulsory rationing in Great Britain were taken in relation to sugar. Since the first month of the war sugar had been subject to Government control, under a Royal Commission on the Sugar Supplies, constituted in Aug. 1914. By the end of 1916 the quantity of sugar that could be obtained for the United Kingdom as a whole began to fall far short of the public demand, and in the first part of 1917 this reduced quantity was being distributed on the basis of giving so far as possible to each trader, whether wholesale or retail, 50% of the quantity which he had received in 1915, it then being left to the retailer to divide his supplies as best he could among his customers, subject to a limit of price. This simple system was necessarily very imperfect in action, and grew steadily less satisfactory owing to changes in the distribution of the population. With the development of the munitions campaign new towns sprang up as at Gretna or Birtley; old towns like Coventry or Sheffield or Woolwich doubled or trebled their population or acquired new suburbs; from many country districts and provincial or university towns in the south of England the population ebbed away. Distribution of sugar or any other article of food on the 1915 basis became manifestly inequitable.
During the first half of 1917, while the acute difficulties of the new munition areas were being relieved by temporary palliatives, such as the dispatch of additional supplies after enquiry by inspectors in each case, schemes for recasting the whole system of distribution on the basis of a complete fresh registration of the population were worked out and several alternative schemes were submitted to the War Cabinet in June 1917. The Cabinet adopted one of the alternatives, under which each household was to be invited to register for sugar with a particular retailer, to whom supplies of sugar would be sent in accordance with the numbers and size of the households registered with him, at a specified ration per head, but under which there would be nothing to prevent a retailer from using any surplus sugar in his hands to supply others, or to prevent persons from getting sugar, if they could, in excess of the ration, or from any retailer other than the one with whom their household was registered.
The scheme, while applied in the first instance only to sugar, involved the setting up of extensive administrative machinery, which could thereafter be used both for rationing other foods and for any other local work of the Ministry. This machinery consisted in essence of some 1,800 Food Control Committees appointed by the local authorities, but with their expenditure met from national funds, together with Divisional Food Commissioners appointed directly by the Ministry of Food for the 15 main divisions into which the country was divided, and having the special function of supervising, assisting, and coordinating the work of the committees. Immediately after the presentation of these proposals to the Cabinet (June 1917) the first food controller, Lord Devonport, resigned his office, and the proposals were approved by the Cabinet, subject to their receiving the subsequent assent of his successor, Lord Rhondda. The latter did in fact assent, and proceeded at once with the schemes both for redistribution of sugar and for divisional and local organization. The ' ,Soo local sanitary authorities in Great Britain were invited by circular (issued Aug. 2 1917) to appoint Food Control Committees, and did so during Aug. and the first part of September. Each committee set up a local " Food Office," usually in one of the municipal buildings, appointed an " Executive Officer," and during Sept. and Oct. issued to each household in the district a sugar card showing the number of persons in the household, and having a counterfoil to be detached and deposited with the retailer from whom the householder proposed to get his sugar. There was thus carried out a complete registration of the population by households in each district. The intention was to bring the distribution of sugar to each district on to the new (population) basis, as opposed to the old (1915 trade) basis as from Jan. I 1918.
The sugar scheme, however, was never brought into force in the form approved by the Cabinet. In that form it was a distribution not a rationing scheme, was based on households not individuals, and deliberately made no formal provision for transfer of individuals from one household to another, or for persons too migratory to form part of any household. An alternative scheme for rationing by means of individual cards, entitling the holder to a fixed quantity and no more, had been submitted to the Cabinet in June 1917 but was rejected, because at that time the Cabinet was not prepared for rationing as such. It seemed doubtful whether the public would submit to compulsory restriction of their food consumption; there was further an objection to giving the enemy the encouragement of seeing Britain apparently driven to extremities by the success of the submarine campaign.
By the end of Sept. it became clear that the public were prepared and anxious for definite rationing, that is to say for a system under which nobody could get more than a certain quantity and everybody could be certain of getting that. In Oct. and the following months accordingly the scheme was entirely revised and provision made for the household sugar cards to be exchanged for individual cards, and for any person who belonged to no household to obtain a document which should be the sole title to sugar supplies.
Another and more drastic change was also contemplated, namely, the substitution of a single centralized register of sugar consumers, that is to say of the whole population, for the 1,800 separate local registers which had resulted from the registration of households under the original scheme. The first steps to the formation of this central register - in the Imperial Institute buildings at South Kensington - were taken in Nov. 1917, and a good deal of preliminary work was done. The change over from local to central registration, however, was only to be made gradually, and was in fact never completed. After the success of the schemes described below - for rationing fats and meat on the basis of local registration (Feb. - April 1918), the idea of making a central register of the population was abandoned. The public, though at times mildly puzzled by the changes of the cards with which they had to deal, remained for the most part unconscious of the successive revolutionary changes in the ideas which dominated the administration of rationing.
The scheme, which had been started as one for the distribution of sugar to households in July 1917, came into force as a scheme of rationing by individuals on Jan. i 1918 without a hitch. The reserve stocks at the disposal of the Sugar Commission were at that time considerable, and, since sugar is not highly perishable, the Commision had been able to distribute those stocks widely and to provide each retailer with an ample margin to meet contingencies. With insignificant exceptions, every person in every part of the country was able from the outset to get week by week the ration of half a pound of sugar to which his ration document entitled him.
Meanwhile, in the last quarter of 1917, the public became aware of serious shortages of other commodities, in particular tea, margarine, bacon and cheese. These shortages led to the appearance of queues at the shops and threatened to arouse grave industrial unrest. The centralized rationing scheme which was then the accepted policy in London could not come into force for many months. On the other hand the Food Control committees were established and at work; it was natural for Lord Rhondda to ask the committees to deal with the difficulty of the queues in the interim as best they could. One or two of the committees, among whom the Birmingham committee was conspicuous, started their own schemes for registering consumers with retailers and controlling the distribution of supplies to the retailers by the exercise of powers of requisition granted by the Ministry. General provision for such schemes was made by an Order of the Food Controller of Dec. 22 1917, which was called a Food Control Committees (Local Distribution) Order, but was in fact an order authorizing committees to introduce complete local rationing of any or every article, subject to approval of the scheme by the Ministry of Food. An important memorandum issued to the committees on Dec. 29 1917 outlined model schemes and gave advice and suggestions. The formulation of local schemes in congested industrial areas at once showed the impracticability of purely local action. It was clearly impossible for several Food Control committees in neighbouring districts forming part of a single industrial town to have different rationing systems, or for some to ration while the others did not. It was equally impossible for local committees to control the distribution of foods, such as frozen meat or margarine, which are stored or manufactured at a few main centres for distribution throughout the country. These difficulties came to the fore at once in London and its suburbs.
At a general meeting of executive officers of the London committees held on Jan. 4 1918, it was resolved to have a single rationing scheme for the whole Metropolitan area and to ask the Ministry of Food to prepare such a scheme for approval by the committees as a whole. It became clear almost immediately that no convenient break could be made between London and the districts immediately surrounding it, and the home counties were included. The scheme was originally asked for to deal with fats (margarine and butter) alone, but the meat shortage became acute at a moment's notice in Jan., and estimates of the quantities available in the first quarter of 1918 made it imperative to include meat as well.
A scheme covering both fats and meat was worked out accordingly by the Ministry, approved at another meeting of executive officers, embodied in a " London and Home Counties (Rationing Scheme) Order," and brought into force on Feb. 25 1918 for an area containing something like 10,000,000 people. It involved the issue of two ration cards to each individual, one with detachable coupons for meat, and one for butter and margarine, without coupons, but with numbered spaces in which the retailer marked off the customer's purchases as they were made; each card had a counterfoil to be deposited with a retailer, and the supplies were distributed to retailers on the basis of the counterfoils deposited with them. The scheme had an almost melodramatic success. The London queues, which, according to the observations made by the Metropolitan Police, had included, in each of the weeks just before rationing, over 1,300,000 people, fell to 191,000 in the first week and to 15,000 in the fourth. Before rationing about 550,000 persons stood in food queues every Saturday in London; on the first Saturday after rationing the number was 110,000, on the next 24,000, and on the fourth Saturday under 7,000. In effect the queues for meat and fats disappeared altogether; there remained only queues for cheese, jam and other unrationed articles. The success of rationing was one of organization; the total amount of meat and fats available for consumption and actually consumed in London was not greater after rationing than before. It was simply better distributed and made obtainable without the labour of standing in a queue.
Meanwhile local schemes under the Order of Dec. 22 1917 had made considerable headway in the diminution or abolition of queues for butter and margarine outside London and the home counties. The local rationing of meat, however, presented insoluble difficulties, and even before the introduction and success of the London scheme the decision had been taken to introduce a national scheme for meat rationing as soon as possible. This was done on April 7.
The extension of meat rationing to the whole country was as successful as its introduction in London. The queues disappeared and everyone everywhere got his ration. This result decided incidentally the fate of the sugar scheme. The attempt to form in London a central ration register of the population was abandoned; the staff, till they could be dispersed, were used on other work in the checking of coupons, and arrangements were made to include sugar in the uniform scheme of national rationing through local committees which was introduced on July 14 1918, when each member of the public received a single book with different coloured leaves of uniform coupons for meat and bacon, fats, sugar, and lard. These, with jam included for the first time in Nov. 1918, were the only articles of food which were rationed nationally, i.e. throughout Great Britain. In addition tea was rationed in most of the great industrial centres under local schemes, and came within an ace of being included under the national scheme of July 1918. Cheese was rationed by a number of committees, but the varying consumption in different parts of the country and by different classes of consumers made any uniform system difficult; it continued to the end to be distributed on a " trade basis," that is to say by giving to each trader a fixed percentage of his supplies in a datum year. Tea, on the other hand, though never rationed nationally, came to be distributed on a registration basis, i.e. in accordance with the actual population in 1918. In addition to articles for human consumption, feeding stuffs for animals were also controlled by the Ministry of Food, and in the latter part of 1918 were brought under a formal rationing system; this system hardly had time to come into full operation when the war ended.
The first national ration book had a currency of 16 weeks, and was succeeded by a fresh issue with no material change except an extension of currency to six months on Nov. 4 1918. After May 3 1919 coupons were abolished, but a limited system of rationing without coupons, by means first of the old ration books and later of identification cards, was continued for many months. Bacon and ham were freed from rationing in July 1918, lard in the following Dec., margarine in Feb. 1919, jam in April 1919, and meat in Dec. 1919. With the freeing of butter in May 1920 and sugar in Nov. 1920 rationing came to an end.
The foregoing sketch applies only to Great Britain. No rationing of meat or fats was attempted in Ireland, but a sugar distribution scheme, on the lines of the first British scheme, was put into force in Ireland by the Irish Food Control committee under powers conferred by the Food Controller.
|Table of contents|
The Rationing Scheme, as finally established in July 1918, was a uniform national system administered by autonomous local committees, and having as its main features the use of individual ration books, the tie of each customer to a particular retailer, and the systematic supply to each retailer of the quantities required to meet the needs of his registered customers. A single application form had to be filled in by each household and forwarded to the Food Office, which thereupon issued a separate ration book for each member of the household. The ration book was a book containing different coloured leaves for various foods. Each leaf consisted of (a) a counterfoil to be signed, detached and given to the retailer with whom the holder of the book wished to register, and (b) coupons for each week's supply to be detached by the retailer when actual purchases were made. On registration of the customer the retailer besides detaching the counterfoil was required to enter his name and address on the appropriate part of the ration book. In addition to the leaves for foods rationed, such as sugar or meat, there were spare leaves which could be used for rationing other foods at short notice, and one of these was in fact adapted to deal with bread should the occasion ever arise. The book contained also a reference leaf, which served as an application form for subsequent issues. There were special books for children under six years of age (who got half rations of meat), books authorizing supplementary rations of bacon for manual workers and growing boys, and special books or leaves of coupons for invalids, travellers, vegetarians, Jews, soldiers and sailors on leave, and other particular classes.
The tie of each customer to a particular retailer was the essence of the scheme, the main safeguard against fraud, and the basis of distribution. Behind rationing as the public saw it - a paper affair of application forms, counterfoils and coupons - was a not less extensive and intricate machinery for distribution of the appropriate supplies through all the complex channels of trade week by week to every retailer in the country. The precise form of this machinery was naturally different for different articles of food; the common feature in all cases was that the retailer had to make an indent on a wholesaler in accordance with the number of persons registered with him, and each wholesaler in turn made application to a primary supplier (manufacturer, importer or other) based upon and accompanied by copies of the retailer's indents. The supplies flowed downwards through the various channels of trade in accordance with the applications and indents. The retailer's indents had in some cases to be approved in advance by the Food Control committees; in all cases their correctness was liable to be checked by examination of their registers of customers and of the counterfoils detached from the ration books.
In the case of meat, where the civilian supplies were mainly homegrown, there was needed in addition an elaborate organization, under Livestock Commissioners appointed by the Ministry of Food, for controlling the bringing of beasts to market, and their slaughtering and distribution, and for supplementing home supplies from the reserves of imported meat. In the case not only of meat, but of butter and margarine, there was a further difficulty - that the food was highly perishable and the retailers could not carry reserve stocks.
The importance of the tie to the retailer became apparent when it came to be realized that it would be perfectly possible to have a rationing scheme without coupons at all, if every individual consumer had to register at a particular shop and the supplies to that shop were adjusted strictly to the registration. The value of the detachable coupon was, first, in enabling the retailer to know whether he had already given a particular customer his supply for that week, and second, in affording a check upon the retailer, who could be required to make returns of supplies received, sold or retained, and to account for the supplies sold by producing an equivalent number of coupons. The staff collected for central rationing was used from April 1918 onwards to check the retailers' accounts by counting the coupons they had collected.
Apart from the points mentioned the technical details of most importance in the rationing scheme were the following: (1) The fixing of the ration for uncooked butcher's meat by value rather than by weight. Under the London scheme and the general meat scheme of April 1918 each card had for each week three coupons entitling the holder to buy 5d. worth per coupon, i.e. is. 3d. worth altogether of uncooked butcher's meat. As the price per lb. for each cut of meat was regulated by an elaborate schedule having regard to quality, to proportion of bone and to other matters, the fixing of the ration by value afforded an automatic means of adjusting the ration according to the cut selected. This device proved quite satisfactory and was continued in all subsequent schemes.
(2) The classification of " establishments," ranging from prisons and asylums to schools, hotels, living-in establishments, tea-shops and seaside boarding houses. With the single exception of the problem of the " self-supplier " this is technically the most difficult part of rationing, and the relatively efficient treatment of establishments in the British system was a considerable element in its general success. It is probably true to say that Britain was the only European country which made serious inroads on the comfort of living in first-class hotels or lunching at first-class clubs during the war.
(3) The provision for transfers of registration from one retailer to another, or from one district to another. This part of the scheme was framed with considerable care; the widespread organization of the Food Control committees bringing a food office within easy reach of every considerable number of inhabitants, and the reasonable latitude allowed to their officers in dealing with local and personal emergencies, prevented registration formalities from becoming intolerable.
The problems of " self-supply " and " direct supply," i.e. of persons producing food for themselves or obtaining food direct from the producer and not through a trader, arose in Great Britain only to a limited extent, and cannot be said to have been fully solved. Restrictions were imposed but were not pressed to the utmost.
The articles rationed and the amounts allowed at various dates are set out in the appended table.
The problem of rationing was simpler in Britain than in most European countries, and far simpler than 'in Germany and Austria, for the following main reasons: first, the deficiency of supplies below normal was less; second, the bulk of the British supplies were imported, not home-grown; third, the supplies of cereals could be and were kept at a point high enough to allow rationing of bread stuffs to be avoided altogether.
The difference in supplies is clearly illustrated by a table given in the article FooD Supply and published by the Ministry of Food at the end of 1918, comparing the estimated consumption per head of certain essential foods in the United Kingdom, Germany and Holland before and during the war. Another striking contrast emerges in the report of a committee appointed at the Ministry of Food at the end of 1917 to prepare a comprehensive scale of rations covering meat, cereals, fats and Rationing in Great Britain 1917-20. Notes. - The numbers in parentheses give the maximum numbers covered by local schemes of rationing. The number covered by national rationing, i.e. the civilian population of Great Britain, in 1918 was 39,000,000.
In the London scheme and the first national meat scheme (April 7 1918) four coupons were provided to cover all meat of every kind. Three of these coupons only might be used for uncooked butcher's meat; any of them could be used for bacon, poultry, preserved meat, etc. The normal ration at the outset was thus is. worth (= 4 lb. with average bone) of uncooked butcher's meat, together with 4 oz. of bacon with average bone, or in place of the bacon, varying quantities of offal, poultry, game, etc. Later the rations were raised.
sugar. The committee based their scale on estimates of the minimum numbers of calories per day required by various classes of persons, according to age and occupation, and of the proportion that, having regard to other foods available, should be provided by these essential foods. Comparing their scale with the actual rations in force during 1917 in Hamburg (taken as typical of German industrial conditions), the committee found that the latter scale represented in respect of these essential foods and potatoes not more than 3 of the minimum requirements, while the shortage of less essential foods was probably even greater. The German ration of fat was reduced still further as from Jan. 11918, making the Hamburg rations per week for ordinary adults as follows: - Bread 41 lbs.; Meat 9 oz.; Fats 21 oz.; Sugar 3 lb.; Potatoes 71 lbs. Men engaged in physical labour received a supplementary ration of 14 lbs. of bread (per week), and those engaged in exceptionally hard physical labour received altogether 72lbs. of bread, 4 lb. of meat, 42 oz. of fats, 3 lb. of sugar and 9s lbs. of potatoes. These men would be few in number.
The weekly rations in Vienna by the end of 1918 were even lower: - Bread 22 lbs. (with an additional 2 lbs. for heavy workers); Meat 42 oz.; Fat II oz.; Sugar nil, and Potatoes I a lbs.
The Austrian figures represent a breakdown of supplies and society. The German rations are those on which the civilian population of Germany sustained the war and made munitions during 1917 and 1918. They show a power in the human body to endure over months and years, at whatever cost in permanent loss of health and vigour, a scale of nutrition far below the minimum prescribed by scientific authority. They indicate at the same time the intensity of the strain to which the rationing regulations of the enemy countries were subjected.
The advantage to the British food controller in obtaining so large a part of his supplies from overseas was equally decisive. Imports were all brought automatically and completely under public control; nothing remained save distribution and the fixing of prices. The German and Austrian food controllers had to rely almost exclusively on home-grown supplies; they were faced by and failed to solve the problem of obtaining from the home producers a fair proportion of their produce for distribution under the rationing system. To a small extent this fact must be taken as a correction of the previous statement of rations as showing the actual consumption; an appreciable part of the total supplies escaping public control altogether was sold as contraband (Schleichhandel) to the urban consumers. The actual consumption in each family was the ration plus a varying proportion of contraband. The contraband trade, however, in Germany at least cannot have benefited more than a small proportion of the industrial population and was mainly an advantage to the well-to-do and to the hotels. It had a disastrous reaction on the general respect paid to the rationing regulations, and deprived them of that support of public opinion which was so marked in Great Britain.
The third great advantage of the British food controllers was that, by securing adequate tonnage for cereals, they were able to avoid the rationing of bread stuffs, and the elaborate and contentious system of graduated rations for different classes of workers which would otherwise have been inevitable. So long as rationing is confined to articles other than bread, a flat scale of rations for all adults, whether engaged in sedentary or in severe physical work, is possible; the larger amount of calories which the latter classes must have, in order to perform their work, can be obtained by increasing their consumption of bread. If bread as well as meat, fats and sugar are rationed this individual adjustment of consumption, according to the physical energy required, becomes impossible. The rationing system itself must provide differentiated rations for men doing varying kinds of physical labour or doing little or no physical work at all.
All the continental countries which rationed bread-stuffs had accordingly to introduce " supplementary " rations for heavy workers of different grades; the classification of the population for this purpose was one of the most difficult and contentious Period of Rationing (whether local or national).
from Dec. 31 1917 to Nov. 29 1920 Locally from Dec. 14 1917 to July 1918 (38,000,000); thereafter nationally to Feb. 16 1919 for both fats, and to May 30 1920 for butter alone.
Locally from Jan. 1 91 8 (I,50o,000); nationally from July 14 1918 to Dec. 16 1918.
London and home counties from Feb. 25 1918 (Io,000,- 000) with a few other local schemes; nationally from April 7 1918 to Dec. 15 1919.
London a n d home counties from Feb. 25 1918 (Io,000,- 000) with a few other local schemes; nationally f r o m April 7 1918 to July 29 1918.
All meat (including preserved meat, poultry, game, offal, venison and horsemeat) was included in original London scheme, but control was gradually relaxed.
Locally from early part of 1918 (500,- 000); Nationally from Nov. 4 1918 to April 15 1919.
Locally from early part of 1918 (2,- 000, 000) .
Locally f r o m Dec. 1917 (17,50o,000).
Amount of Weekly Ration per Head.
8 oz. Dec. 31 1917 to Jan. 27 1919; thereafter sometimes 12 oz. and sometimes 8 oz. with a drop to 6 oz. for a few weeks in Sept.-Oct. 1919, and again J a n.- March 1920.
5 or 6 oz. for both fats under national scheme. The London scheme started with a ration of 4 oz. The separate butter ration after Feb. 1919 varied from I to 2 Oz.
2 oz. nationally and in most local schemes.
Under the London Scheme 3 coupons entitling to 4d. worth each, or is. altogether (about 1 lb. with average bone), subsequently changed to is. 3d. Under the national scheme varying values as follows: is. 3d., Is.; Is. 4d., is. 8d., Is. 4d., is. 8d., 2 S.
Under the London scheme 4 oz. with bone per coupon. Under the national scheme 5 oz. and 8 oz.
4 oz. under national scheme.
I 2 OZ. to 2 O .
I i oz. to 2 Article. Sugar .
Butter and Margarine .
Meat (Uncooked Butcher's Meat) Bacon and Ham.
Other Meats Jam Cheese .
Tea parts of the whole system; it appears to cut at the root of the principle of equality upon which rationing is based. In Great Britain a scheme of supplementary rations of bacon, for growing boys and for men engaged in physical labour, was introduced in April 1918, not so much for its own sake as in order to get the recipients classified, and so to prepare the ground, in case bread rationing became necessary, as at that time appeared possible. Fortunately the danger to the British bread supplies passed over; the supplementary rations of bacon, though they received the general support of the Food Control committees and were clearly right in principle, were strongly criticized by labour representatives, and were abolished when bacon was freed from rationing in July 1918.
While for the three reasons stated it must be recognized that the British rationing problem was immeasurably simpler than the German or the Austrian one, it may still be claimed that even allowing for this the British system was definitely superior in itself. First, the proper balance between centralization and decentralization of responsibility was attained. The British system was national and therefore uniform and fair in principle, but was carried out by local authorities with ample power to adjust it to local conditions. German rationing was local in origin; the central authorities had the impossible task of securing coordination subsequently; the traveller from one part of the country to another found himself under different regulations in every town. Second, the British food controllers never issued a ration book without a distribution system to back it. Third, the British system was probably superior in the ingenuity of many technical details. In respect of one of the main articles of food, namely meat, the British like the German controllers had practically to rely upon home-grown produce for the civilian population and had the same problem of collecting supplies from the producer. Fourth, and finally, the British system was more successful in giving equal treatment to rich and poor. This was its corner stone. Lord Rhondda had many doubts as to the practicability of rationing. He feared that the public would never submit to being limited in their purchases, tied to one retailer and subjected to transfer formalities every time they moved from one district to another. He found that the British people in war were prepared to submit to any and every restriction on their freedom of action so long as it applied fairly to all alike. (W. H. B.) United States Food rationing, properly speaking, was resorted to in the United States during the World War only in a modified form, and as to two commodities, wheat flour and sugar. That is to say, the rationing system under which a strict limit was set by law and regulation to the amount of food any person might purchase, as was the case in European countries where the rationed foods were issued only on presentation of official food cards, was practically unknown in the United States. The food saving there was accomplished in general as explained in the articles Food Supply: United States and Savings Movement: United States, through the voluntary self-denial of citizens in response to Government appeals and recommendations.
In the last three months of 1917 a serious shortage of sugar developed, and American householders, particularly in the eastern states, had difficulty in obtaining even small quantities for table use. This shortage emphasized the necessity for special attention to its conservation. As a first step, manufacturers of " soft " drinks, candy and related commodities, were directed to reduce their consumption to 80% of the amount used by them during the first six months of 1917. This attempt at conservation was not wholly successful in its operation as some of the less patriotic manufacturers ignored the direction. On May 15 1918, when the urgent need for shipping had resulted in a diversion of tonnage from traffic with Cuba to longer voyages, regulations were issued requiring that sales of sugar to manufacturers of the less essential foods and drinks should be made only upon presentation, by these manufacturers, of certificates which they were required to obtain from the federal food administrator of the state. These certificates were issued only upon proof that the applicant had not used since Jan. 11918, 80% of the amount of sugar used by him in the first half-year of 1917, and the certificate enabled the manufacturer to obtain only enough sugar to bring his total to this 80 per cent. The sugar shortage became still more serious, and with the prospect of a repetition of the ex perience of the fall of 1917, a rationing plan modelled upon certain European systems was put in force beginning July I 1918. The refiner or manufacturer of sugar was forbidden to ship sugar to a purchaser except upon the receipt of a certificate issued by the federal food administrators. These certificates were issued to retailers on the basis of the number of their customers. Customers were allowed to purchase only on the basis of i lb. per person per month. This was increased to 2 lb. on Oct. 15 1918, and the restriction was removed in Nov. 1918. The local administrators were also authorized at all times during the home canning season to issue certificates permitting housewives to buy sugar in 25 lb. lots for canning purposes after the giving of satisfactory proof that it was desired for such purposes. A further regulation for manufacturers using sugar divided them into classes, with respect to the necessity for their products, and they were permitted to buy only on the presentation of certificates issued to them on the basis of their classification. Comparing the figures for war-time consumption of sugar in the United States with pre-war and post-war consumption, a saving of from 400,000 to 600,000 tons is shown to have been accomplished through conservation measures. Assuming it to have been 500,000 tons, it would have supplied people in France for a year, at their ration of J5 lb. per head.
In addition to the appeals for voluntary conservation, which were particularly stressed with reference to wheat flour, compulsory regulations were put in force as to certain dealers and distributors of this commodity in Jan. 1918. This step was determined upon as a result of a particularly serious appeal addressed in that month to Mr. Hoover by Lord Rhondda, British Food Controller. Lord Rhondda cabled that unless the United States could furnish 75,000,000 bus. of wheat by July to the Allies, he could not be responsible for their remaining steadfast in the war. Accordingly flour mills were required to raise their percentage of extraction to 74% and to eliminate altogether the sale of patent flours. On Feb. 3 1918, the bakers were required to use 5% of substitute flour in all bread, and this amount was raised to 20% on Feb. 24 and on May 3 to 25 per cent. Rules were also promulgated early in 1918 requiring manufacturers of cake, breakfast cereals, macaroni and the like to limit their consumption of wheat flour to 70% of the amount they had used in 1917 for the same purposes. Since more than 50% of the flour consumed in the United States is used in home baking, it was necessary to require housewives as well as bakers to use substitutes for wheat flour. Regulations were accordingly issued, about Feb. 11918, requiring that no dealer or miller should sell wheat flour to an individual consumer without an equal amount of substitutes. The substitutes specified included all substitute flours, corn meal, corn grits, oatmeal and rice. Although this was not, strictly speaking, a rationing measure, it is estimated that it accomplished a saving of approximately 25% in the household consumption of wheat flour. Notwithstanding a shortage instead of a surplus at the beginning of the year 1918, the American people saved out of their own consumption sufficient wheat to send to the Allies, between Jan. 1 and the harvest, not merely the 75,000,000 bus. for which Lord Rhondda pleaded, but a total of 85,000,000 bushels.
The rationing measures described were withdrawn in Nov. 1918, and after that date there was no governmental limit upon the purchase for consumption of any food commodity in the United States. Although a sugar shortage developed there in 1919 as a result of the continuing world shortage, no revival of control over consumers' purchases was attempted in the United States. The Sugar Equalization Board, which had been continued in existence for distribution of the 1919 crop, revived, for a short time and to a limited extent, its control over distribution by directing to what sections of the country refiners should ship their product. The fact remains, however, that such rationing measures as the U.S. Government employed were in force only for a few months in 1918. (W. C. M.)
- Please bookmark this page (add it to your favorites)
- If you wish to link to this page, you can do so by referring to the URL address below.
This page was last modified 29-SEP-18
Copyright © 2021 ITA all rights reserved.