“No person is permitted to have more than two weeks’ supply of sugar on hand,” declare ads in 1942 outlining sugar rations.
Sugar is, perhaps, the iconic victim of wartime rationing. It was the first staple item that people started hoarding, and the first item that the Wartime Prices Board began to ration – both within days of war being declared. The rationing, which included regulations as to the amount of sugar anyone could have on hand at any one time, put a stop to the hoarding, at least, but it created a whole new conundrum: Preserving one’s own food, that one grew in one’s own garden, was a key part of the war effort. Ads and posters everywhere virtually proclaimed that a housewife could almost win the war singlehandedly if she only canned her own food. But how could she possibly do that without sugar?
This was a particularly big issue in farming communities like the Creston Valley. Every year, starting in early May – as soon as the earliest crops of strawberries could be expected – the Creston Review ran articles outlining the most up-to-date regulations: where and how to get special sugar ration coupons; the maximum amounts that could be obtained; the process by which they could be obtained. The rules varied from one year to the next, and sometimes changed during a single season.
There was a lot of confusion. One week in July 1942, the Review provided what it called clarification on the sugar issue for women and storekeepers alike: “There are some retailers who do not thoroughly understand the regulations ... [and] ... are slowing up sales of fruit and sugar by demanding that the exact ration of sugar be issued with each purchase of fruit. The purchase of sugar is definitely not tied to the purchase of fruit.”
The rules at the time stated that customers could buy half a pound of sugar for each pound of fruit purchased for canning purposes. Storekeepers were, apparently, adhering strictly to that rule: if a customer bought twenty pounds of cherries, she could buy only ten pounds of sugar, even if she planned to come back the next week and buy twenty pounds of peaches. But the Review insisted that the customer could buy all twenty pounds of sugar at once “provided that she sincerely intends to use every bit of that sugar for canning purposes.”
A week later, the Review was obliged to publish another story for further clarification: No, it stated, citing information directly from the Wartime Prices Board, you cannot buy all your sugar at once; it is indeed tied to the purchase of fruit, no matter how sincere your intentions are.
Sugar was not the only thing to be rationed. Meat, butter, and eggs all had their own coupons in the ration books, as did tea and coffee. Actual shortages prompted some of these restrictions; more often, though, was the difficulty of getting items that were produced overseas. These products were being shipped across “oceans infested with submarines” and taking up space in cargo ships that was desperately needed for “more essential services.” If you truly cared about the men who were risking their lives in those ships, you would reduce your tea and coffee consumption.
Farm machinery was rationed to ensure an equitable distribution, because so much of the steel needed for its production had been diverted to making war machines. The purchase of gasoline was strictly limited. OK Rubber Welders actually invented its process of retreading tires because of the impossibility of getting new tires. Special fares for rail travel were eliminated to reduce the temptation for unnecessary travel and the consumption of fuel that it required. Daylight Saving Time made its second appearance in Canada (everywhere except Creston) to reduce consumption of lamp oil.
Endless collection drives, for everything from rubber and copper wire to scrap paper, bits of leather, and even bones and fat from cooking, amounted to a form of rationing that precluded even much of the creative making-do that self-sufficient farmers and housewives had adopted during the Depression years. “I don’t need a new dress,” reads one advertisement. “Let the material be used for warm clothing for the fighting men.” Another declares, “We don’t need a larger house. Our son is over there sleeping in a tent. “Let’s spend the money on war savings stamps instead.”
Even children were not exempt from rationing and restrictions. An article in the Creston Review in October 1942 informed the younger set that “you must sacrifice too,” and proceeded to outline “four don’ts” for Halloween that would support the war effort.