Most readers have not experienced rationing first hand (other than gas rationing in the late 1970s, perhaps). But during World War II virtually every essential and consumable product was strictly rationed by the government. This was to preserve valuable stores of food, manufactures, and raw materials. In the spring of 1942, the Food Rationing Program was announced. The federal government was forced to control supply and demand, so ration cards were issued to thwart widespread dissatisfaction over inevitable shortages. Rationing also attempted to insure that the wealthy 1–10 percent did not have unfair purchasing advantages. The government put a positive spin on rationing by invoking patriotism and victory. For the most part, the loyal citizenry followed the restrictions, urged along, of course, by relentless propaganda.
“Food Fights For Freedom,” was a common slogan. “Produce and Conserve” and “Share and Play Square” were mantras designed to rally consensus.
In response to food rationing, the food industry jumped on board as much to show its patriotic fervency as to protect its business interests. Wartime recipe booklets were regularly issued to guide the homefront housewife through the limitations of meatless days and used-up ration points. Spaghetti with liver was a favorite, scrapple was a delight, and skillet supper—using eight mock-chicken legs, browned with lard or drippings—was de-lish! Forget nouvelle anything or fusion cuisine. Wartime fusion was what goes well with beans (rice or franks?).
To make ends meet and meat not end, various companies, organizations, and boards offered helpful pointers. The National Live Stock and Meat Board, Armour and Company, and Sun Maid Raisin Growers all did their part. So did the United States Cold Storage Company with its “Victory Meat Extenders,” and the American Gas Association with its “Victory Lunch Kit.”
While the men were away sacrificing their lives, the homebodies agreed to “do my bit and more, to help American win the war,” which meant making certain that, even under rationing constraints, their meals would be made with protein, minerals, and vitamins. And each housewife swore that “Each bit of food I will conserve. With All the problems to be faced, I’ll do my best to outlaw waste.” And so, Hamburger Helper was born.