Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meat Me on Rationing Day

Only 20 more days to go until rationing begins and we've been talking a lot about meat during the past week at the Rational Living household. Now, just so that you know - we are not a big meat-eating family. Mind you, we’re not vegetarians, either. During an average week about three or four of our family meals have meat as a focus; the other nights we’re content with meat-free options. But this week we've been all about the meat - at least in talk. Not just what types of meat we will/won’t be able to eat during the rationing year, but also how much a harvest or two of venison this week would help alleviate some of that restriction. You see, rifle hunting season for deer started this week and the hunter in the family hasn't had much luck so far. I’ll by-pass the hunting soap-box for now (but if you really want to hear it I recommend you visit my bloggy friend Anisa’s excellent essay here). Instead, as we pine away for a freezer full of deer meat I’ll fill you in on the meat portion of our rationing project.

The idea of meat rationing as a civilian effort to help the war actually goes back to WWI, when the U.S. government encouraged “meatless meals” as part of their voluntary rationing program. As you may have already guessed, voluntary rationing during WWI didn't really take off - I think it has something to do with the “voluntary“ part (in general, we Americans aren't very good at self-regulation). Ultimately the considerable inflation that occurred due to restricted markets and continued high demand impacted a family’s meat consumption more than any effort to support the war.

Early in WWII the U.S. government knew voluntary rationing would not be sufficient to guarantee needed resources for the military. After a brief period of “share the meat” campaigns, official meat rationing began in March 1943 as part of the “red point” rationing system that not only included meat but dairy and fats/oils (dairy and fats/oils rationing will be discussed in a different blog entry - pinky swear!) . With the point system each individual was given a set number of red points to use on meat, dairy and fats/oils purchases, with included items varying in point values. For the majority of the rationing period each individual was allotted 48 points per month, to be used (in theory) as they wished. Our family of four will get 192 total red points per month.

In reality, point values fluctuated throughout the war and shortages were common. In general, lower-quality cuts such as tougher bone-in slices and mix-em-up sausages (and SPAM) cost fewer points per pound and allowed consumers more protein for their points. While higher grade cuts were still desirable their considerable point values made them luxuries rather than necessities. Beef point values, in particular, were higher than other meats - partly due to the fact that 60% of U.S. choice beef was reserved for military consumption. Of course, families that couldn't afford the higher cuts of meats before the war were less affected by the point rationing system, while the upper class saw first-hand the affects of rationing at nearly every meal (unless they paid the extra price for choice cuts on the black market).

For our purposes we will be using the following handy-dandy point chart provided by the Ames Historical Society. It’s a chart from the Oct 29, 1943 edition of the Des Moines Tribune. The chart is really wonderful and breaks down point amounts for classic red point items (meats, dairy, fats/oils) but also blue point items (canned and frozen produce) as well. Point amounts for meat are near the center of the page - just under the scandalous headline “Butter Still at 16 Points.” Okay, maybe scandalous isn't the right word, but a pound of butter would have cost (and will cost us) one person’s entire weekly red point rations. This is serious business.

Take a peak at the meat portion of the chart - what do you notice? Okay, first of all veal = beef, very confusing. See how there are “old” and “new” point values listed? That’s demonstrating how point values fluctuated during rationing. Finally, have you noticed that something is missing? Poultry is not listed! This is because non-canned poultry was never rationed, typically because it was only locally raised and sold. The same was true of fresh fish. And game meat wasn't rationed, hence our extra-keen desire for a successful hunt this week. Now, we could happily abide by these same principles for our rationing year; we could fill up on chicken and turkey and use our red rationing points to purchase traditionally rationed meats and such. But it just wouldn't feel right. The whole point of the rationing year is to demonstrate that you can live (happily) on less so that others can have more. Modern food distribution systems make poultry and fish just as widespread and available as pork and beef. And so we’re making the following adjustments to the red point rationing system: game meat is still un-rationed but poultry and fish will be rationed following the point values listed for pork unless the poultry was produced on small-scale farms within 50 miles of our city, or if the fish was caught by ourselves or someone we personally know.

So there you have it, the meat portion of our rationing program. Of course, I didn't cover all the “meat substitute” options such as beans, eggs and cheeses yet. I think that will be more blog-worthy once rationing has begun and we‘re trying to decide what meals to make. I plan on getting a big, laminated photocopy of that chart to hang on the refrigerator for meal planning and shopping reference. In the meantime, there are seven days left of the main deer hunting season.

--Rational Mama


  1. good for you to not take the "easy" way out on the fish and poultry rationing! we eat about the same here in the copeland household (rarely any red meat, about 5 meals with chicken or fish and the others veggie). and that butter ration--- WTF!!! that's crazy! i'm really looking forward to you all getting your hands dirty, so to speak, and seeing what it's like for you all once the rationing starts. what a good example to set for those sweet kiddos!

  2. By the way, hubby brought a deer (a doe) home Sunday morning, so there will be at least some venison in the freezer for the rationing year. He's talking about trying again during the extended season after the 1st of the year (he's done for now with the inches of snow and sub-zero windchills!).

  3. Have you considered making your own butter? It is exceptionally easy with a stand or hand mixer. You get a pound of butter from 2 quarts of whipping cream and then you get the buttermilk too. We've found the buttermilk can be substituted in Pancakes, biscuits, waffles, breads, etc. causing our actual use of butter on top to be slim to none other than in baking. Both keep in the fridge just as long (if not longer) than the store bought stuff. This might save you a few points, and with us, a few dollars in the long run.

  4. Hmm...we've made small amounts of butter from cream before, but mostly as a novelty. Can you provide instructions? Thanks!