Seeing people queuing up for hours outside hyper markets for essential foodstuffs overlooking health hazards and norms of social distancing and also suffering from pangs of anxiety on how to keep the kitchen fire on, I remembered the 80’s when most middle and upper class households had ration cards and weekly visits to the ration shops yielded sugar,whole wheat flour, the Bangalipi copies in specific quantities allotted to every member of the household. With the 90’s we were flooded with choices and with mushrooming of departmental stores, the rationing system went out of popularity among middle class households in the cities. Open racks displaying a variety in consumables, prospect of credit card payments etc made us forget the possibility of being able to live on limited supplies.We began buying indiscriminately, stocking up and often wasting stuff.We became addicted to high sugar,high calorie and preserved foods thereby increasing our sugar and cholesterol levels nationwide as well as worldwide.
The advent and rage of novel Corona virus changed all such consumption patterns worldwide and in a sense changed people across nations. Anxiety about the unknown, an explainable fear,social distancing,separation from loved ones in cities across nations and continents,jumbled emotions and a high incidence of stress are common worldwide irrespective of social or economic status. Anxiety about aging parents living in a different city, complaining kids and sulking friends is making things worse.The challenge is two fold – to build up stores during the days of the lock down,to maintain the supplies and then to cook two meals for the family using as little of the fresh vegetables,chicken,fish, dry provisions so painstakingly stocked up. With the entire family around and helping each other it is always good to see a smile in their face at the end of the day and a smile is best got from a hearty meal.The meal I am cooking is following a general rule that it should not be elaborate using exotic ingredients, it can be a one pot meal providing the daily dose of calories from carbohydrate,proteins and minerals and the lunch can be doubled up as dinner throwing in certain variations. Someday a brunch is ideal saving up on one meal.To use up left overs,to think rationally when planning a meal,to use oil,butter and eggs judiciously, to innovate and be creative is all that we need in the kitchen now.
Yesterday when my milk and bread stores were nearing depletion, I thought of nations subsisting on rationed provisions for years during World War I and particularly during World War II.Living on less is difficult but not impossible.If we survive the Corona ,the world will be no doubt a bit different.We will be better individuals learning to respect little pleasures,little boons and small blessings. We will probably start counting our blessings.History has taught that nations do survive on less and come out stronger out of it.
Reports in the social media about supermarts like TESCO in UK rationing goods like antibacterial gels, wipes and sprays, dry pasta, UHT milk and some tinned vegetables made me study the history of food rationing. The rules of rationing are applicable in stores as well as online.While Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Iceland and Lidl have not made changes to their opening times, several of the supermarket chains have introduced dedicated shopping hours for the elderly, vulnerable customers, NHS and social care workers. Sainsbury’s is allowing customers to buy a maximum of three of any single item, while Morrisons said it is limiting purchases across 1,250 lines. Asda also announced that it is restricting shoppers to three items on all food and Aldi has already introduced limits of four items per shopper across all products. In essence all such measures amounts to rationing and probably soon in India too we will toe such rules of limited buying.
A LOOK BACK – During the beginning of the Second World War, Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries. The Germans used battleships and submarines to hunt down and sink British merchant vessels on sea. With imports of food declining, the British government decided to introduce a system of rationing. This involved every householder registering with their local shops. The shopkeeper was then provided with enough food for his or her registered customers.In January 1940 bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. This was followed by meat, fish, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit. In the summer of 1940 the government established a committee of nutritional experts to advise the War Cabinet on food policy. The committee issued a report claiming that each citizen could survive on twelve ounces of bread, a pound of potatoes, two ounces of oatmeal, an ounce of fat, six ounces of vegetables and six-tenths of a pint of milk per day, supplemented either by small amounts of cheese, pulses, meat, fish, sugar, eggs and dried fruit. Allowances fluctuated throughout the war, but on average one adult’s weekly ration was 113 gm bacon and ham (about 4 thin slices), one shilling and ten pence worth of meat (about 227 gm minced beef), 57 gm butter, 57 gm cheese, 113 gm margarine, 113 gm cooking fat, 3 pints of milk, 227 gm sugar, 57 gm tea and 1 egg. Other foods such as canned meat, fish, rice, condensed milk, breakfast cereals, biscuits and vegetables were available but in limited quantities on a points system.The food rationing system gave people the opportunity to obtain a balanced diet and as a result the health of the nation improved during this period.People were encouraged to provide their own food. The government’s campaign called for every man and woman to keep an allotment. Lawns and flower-beds were turned into vegetable gardens. Chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs were reared in town gardens.
Clothing too was rationed from June, 1941. A points system allowed people to buy one completely new outfit a year. To save fabric, men’s trousers were made without turn ups, while women’s skirts were short and straight. Frills on women’s underwear were banned.Women’s magazines were packed with handy hints on how, for example, old curtains might be cut up to make a dress. Stockings were in short supply so girls coloured their legs with gravy browning .In May 1943, the annual clothing coupon allowance was cut from 48 to 36 per adult.
The situation was same in America too.As the 1940s dawned, Americans faced the looming threat of World War II with warfare and food shortages spreading throughout the European continent. During World War II Americans responded quickly to the government’s calls for soldiers and adherence to a host of home front programs established to support the war effort. Food rationing, as one of the first civilian programs established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, became a central component of the American home-front experience. Women made conscious and sometimes difficult choices to support elements of the government’s food rationing program. Yet, women rationed their family’s food on their own terms and for their own reasons.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous maxim “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” hints at the connection between food and identity. Identity emerges as a result of both the types of foods one consumes and the thought behind the action of consumption. Beyond mere personal tastes and preferences, food choices disclose an individual’s station in society; food is given significance by how it is narratively framed and by its significance within the community or nation. Sugar and Red Meat served as linchpins of American identity and held distinct meanings for consumers in the 1940s. Amy Bentley’s Eating for Victory succinctly argues that wartime Americans held engendered views of these two items. The rationing of culturally feminized sugar meant limits on purchase amounts, and home front baking and preserving, challenged housewives’ ability to maintain the prewar standard of a full cookie jar. In a modern sense, cutting sugar intake seems prudent. However, in the 1940s sugar was regarded as an important energy-giving substance and even nutrition experts agreed with widespread consumption. Likewise red meat, considered the bible in healthy eating during the 1940s, also held strong connotations. Red meat conjured masculine discourse which meant many felt it vital for those actively fighting or producing for the war.
As American women sought to negotiate the strictures of the OPA food rationing program while remaining true to their commitment as preservers of American culture, some inventive efforts aimed at redefining cultural meanings so as to make unappealing items more acceptable occurred. Perhaps the best example of the transmutation of food meanings on the home front comes from the journey of ethnic foods into the mainstream diet. Many cookbooks and women’s magazines pushed the housewife to attempt feeding the family with exotic ethnic cuisine during the war because these ingredients were often more available and ration friendly. While these newly discovered foods didn’t necessarily appeal to the American palate in their most authentic forms, recipes underwent some alteration with respect to taste and meaning. Foods once considered true expressions of immigrant culture that carried negative connotations were reborn as patriotic experiments from the kitchen. Eating broccoli , mustard greens gained value. Molasses became fodder for patriotic cooking. Molasses gained widespread acceptance and even started a craze over spice and molasses cookies during the war became popular. Many Americans saw molasses as an ethnic food from the American South, but embraced it’s strangeness as it allowed women to bake without the use of sugar. Propaganda messages regarding directed at influencing housewives to ration food in accordance with the OPA program became state directed.The general goal of this propaganda remained the same throughout the war: convince housewives to cheerfully adhere to the food rationing program by using patriotic and democratic imagery. In 1943 the Office of War Information published a propaganda poster aimed at convincing housewives to democratically share available foods, especially the much hoarded coffee. A poster depicted a young white serviceman wearing a combat helmet, smiling and holding a large tin coffee mug. The taglines on the poster read “Do with less- so they’ll have enough!” and proclaims “Rationing gives you your fair share”. Within weeks of American entry into World War II coffee became the first commodity to disappear from grocers’ shelves and tempted many women to hoard coffee as they remembered the drastic shortages endemic to the First World War. The final, and perhaps most revealing series of OWI food-rationing posters, which met with housewife support, addressed the issue of canning foods and vegetables.
Propaganda pushed housewives to can foods instead of buying canned food at the grocery store .Many Americans living in rural areas, and the working poor already planted gardens and preserved foods for future kitchen use. Gardening a portion of one’s food supply, either as a part of traditional lifestyles or as a necessity began during the Great Depression and remained popular throughout the war years. By 1944 Americans tended over twenty-million individual gardens which produced 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States. Secondly, canning and preserving foods remained an almost entirely female pursuit. By canning, women demonstrated their mastery over the domestic sphere and simultaneously insured food stability for the family. The message on the poster “Can All You Can” is emblazoned across the label of an empty quart canning jar sitting atop a variety of luscious fresh vegetables.
Women’s publications encouraged a communal relationship with food. Just as the OPA’s announcements, radio shows, and posters worked to inspire adherence to food rationing programs, cookbooks and magazines also served a basic purpose. Cookbooks have long been a vehicle for women to express their beliefs, culture, and build authority on domestic affairs. While many larger national publications, such as the American classic The Joy of Cooking, could not totally rearrange and restructure their books to discuss rationing, they did make sizeable efforts to touch upon the issue. These national publications created wartime supplements with advice and supposedly ration-friendly recipes, alongside new introductions which acknowledged both the role of women in the war and the uniquely female understanding of patriotic action popular among housewives. The largest publications, such as the Good Housekeeping Cookbook, tended to marginalize their response to food rationing by building war sections or special addendum to their normal cookbook content instead of integrating their advice throughout the cookbook. Some cookbook authors chose to highlight the war and food rationing through the recipes they published during the war years. these authors shared basic meal planning and points planning advice. They echoed varying levels of support for the OPA’s food rationing program, mimicking propaganda from the first two years of the war that emphasized the democratic nature of rationing. Marjory Mills’ Cooking on a Ration brightly proclaims “food is still fun” in the face of rationing and fears of food shortages. Mills begins her cookbook by admonishing her readers to have faith in food rationing and reminding them to stick with the childhood lesson of sharing. She tells her readers, “we’re relearning that lesson now where food is concerned, only it’s global sharing of the chocolate bar, the juicy steak, the can of soup.”
Sugar rationing and shortages caused stress for housewives. Corn syrup became the most common sugar substitute in most cookbooks, although author’s disagreed upon the exact amount needed for an equal exchange in recipes. The Gardeners’ Cook Book argued a proper substitution called for two cups of corn syrup for every single cup of sugar. Conversely, the cookbook Cook’s Away, which targeted those learning culinary arts for the first time or those going without a cook due to labor shifts caused by the war, called for substituting half the sugar in a recipe with corn syrup. Another author advocated an equal swap of syrup for sugar, but cautions “this will not be as sweet”. Gertrude Voellmig’s Wartime Cooking Guide advises housewives “baking and cooking of other sweets can be managed if sugar substitutes are made to help stretch rations.” Cookbook authors also suggested alternative methods for producing desserts without the use of any sugar at all. Harriet Hester’s book devoted to saving sugar reminded housewives to use fruit juices from canned fruit as a sweetener for gelatin and to cook with dried fruits in order to add sweetness without sugar.
With the OPA order to ration meats under the rather complicated red point scheme, housewives found another mealtime and cultural staple threatened. Meat held great cultural currency for wartime families, who had just survived the economic rigors of the Great Depression. Sitting down to a meal built around a juicy steak, pot roast, or baked chicken symbolized a return to normalcy and affluence for the middle class. Even Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “freedom from want” depicted the ideal of a roasted turkey on every American table. Nonetheless, when meat became rationed, housewives responded positively and searched out methods for maintaining family standards while contributing to military needs by reserving the abundance of American produced meat for servicemen. When Saidee Leach’s son wrote her from his Navy ship in the Pacific and expressed his happiness with eating steak in the military mess hall, she optimistically replied “No, I am not envious of your eating steak, for we want you men to have the best.” She then continued in her letter to describe her success in wrangling a piece of utility grade meat into an edible dish with the assistance of ketchup. Cookbooks offered recipes and ideas for extending meat such as adding vegetables, sauces, cereals, noodles, or biscuits and dumplings to complete a main dish. Ground beef became perhaps the thriftiest, and yet still acceptable meat choice to emerge during the war. In one recipe for beef loaf, Gertrude Veollmig included four variations using different flavorings and meat stretchers. These sort of recipes remained popular as they required only a pound and a quarter or so of ground meat and promised to yield six to eight servings. Voellmig’s Beef Loaf included suggestions for the addition of bread crumbs or oatmeal or cornmeal to the ground meat in order to provide taste and texture variations and allow the housewife to serve this meal repeatedly. Some cookbook authors harkened back to the shortages and slogans from World War I for ration recipe inspiration in the 1940’s. Meatless Mondays reentered the American lexicon during World War II as a solution for housewives unable to restrict family consumption. Ruth Berolzheimer, the director of the Culinary Arts Institute, edited The American Woman’s Meals Without Meat Cook Book. This cookbook offered suggestions for main courses which featured mostly fish, pasta, or eggs.The cookbook then suggested these central dishes be supplemented with vegetables and savory sauces to create well rounded nutritional meals. The Settlement Cook Book offered five variations on a vegetable plate and a cheese blintz dinner menu for “meatless days.”
Oils and fats became perhaps the most unexpected food item to join the wartime ranks of rationed foods. In the spring of 1943, about a year after most staple foods came under the supervision of the OPA’s food rationing programs, butter and some other cooking oils became scarce. The Good Housekeeping Institute counseled women that they had the same two main options when dealing with butter shortages as they did with meat: substitution and stretching. Cooking fats such as bacon grease or vegetable shortening could be used for sauteing, margarine or vegetable shortening replaced butter in baking, and both still provided the nutrition . Nancy Hawkins’s book Let’s Cook even told women to use lard or suet as acceptable butter substitutes in cooking, The Settlement Cook Book suggests women end a meatless vegetable plate dinner with an artfully served frozen can of peaches.
All of us experiencing this lockdown has been dong it for the first time.The only thing which can give solace to our frayed nerves is a hope and a trust.A hope for brighter world free of disease and a faith on our health care professionals and government to bail us through this utmost crisis. History has seen pandemics like the Plague, man made as well as natural famines where humanity at large has been able to adapt, change and survive.So the next time we feel stressed about the empty egg tray think of potatoes substituting, when we feel tempted to visit the market for a fresh supply of chicken think of the jar of mixed legumes and the soyabean lying unused for months.Cheese can be done away with, start doing your own curd for the dip, instead of the noodles use the pack of instant noodles and throw away the water in which it is boiled and do it noodle style.If you are less stocked up on your masoor dal and wonder about the proportions for the khicdi, use the less consumed lentils lying sadly on kitchen closets….you will have the most tasty khicdi eaten for a while.Cook once a day for the brunch or lunch and extend it to dinner with certain variations.Use the peels and greens of the vegetable in tasty soups and other dishes. Enjoy the time as leisure, rediscover your hobbies of school years, converse with your spouse and children over issues we hardly talk call up friends as well as foes. After all we will not die of hunger , we need to survive the virus.Emerge stronger and united as a family,nation and world at large.