Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer!

(*cue carnival music*)


Step right up and view the amazing, stupendous, death-defying Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer!!!

Yes siree! This astonishing system, which seems so simple, will absolutely guarantee rationing restrictions, shortages and surpluses! You’ll be impressed by its randomness! It’s ability to change your meal plans will boggle the mind! So step right up to see exactly how the amazing Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer works!

(*cue jugglers*)

I wanted the introduction of our wartime marketplace scenario system to be exciting and interesting. After all, this is one element of our rationing program that will make the whole experience slightly more authentic (and crazy). The unpredictability of market availability, prices and points caused added confusion and frustration with the home front rationing program in WWII. The chaos reminded me a bit of a three-ring circus, hence the carnival announcer's delivery (plus, I reckoned it would be less annoying than writing it in the style of the Sham Wow! guy…although, now that I think if it, that sounds like it could be fun).

Anyhoo, this is how the Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer works:

The system consists of one die (that's the singular version of dice) and two paper bags; each bag contains multiple labeled craft sticks. As you can see, we spare no expense here at Rational Living.

Each Wednesday evening we will use Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer and the results will be effective for one week – until the next Wednesday when we use Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer again.

Step #1:

Roll the die to determine how many scenarios are required for the week. Numbers one through five are at face value, while number six means no scenarios for the week (whew!).

Step #2:

Choose an item from the "Goods" bag. The items include: gasoline, pork*, beef*, chicken*, processed meats, canned fruit, canned vegetables, hard cheeses, soft cheese, salad oils*, shortening, sugar*, dried fruit, butter, canned soups and sauces, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, flour, coffee*, nuts and nut-based products (like peanut butter), eggs*, cottage cheese, jams/jellies, dried legumes, alternative sweeteners (molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey), grains (rice, oats, rye, etc.) and milk.

*Items with an asterisk are market goods that were commonly affected during the war and therefore have more than one labeled craft stick in the "Goods" bag.

Step #3:

Choose an item from the Scenario bag. Scenarios include:
  • Surplus – available at only ½ of the usual ration points
  • Scarce* – available but only at 1 1/2 times the usual ration points
  • None Available* – enough said
  • Victory Special – surplus; available for only ¼ of the usual ration points OR buy extra amounts if a non-rationed good
  • Limited Availability* – available, but can only purchase ½ the amount that would normally be purchased
  • Substandard Quality – available but only in lower quality (off-label brands, etc.)

*Items with an asterisk were common scenarios during wartime and therefore have more than one labeled craft stick in the "Scenarios" bag.

For example, one scenario possibility would be that salad oils are scarce and available for only 1 1/2 times the regular rationing points listed on the handy dandy chart. Either we pay the extra points or decide to not purchase salad oil that week.

Each Wednesday we repeat this procedure for the number of times indicated by the die roll in Step #1. The first Wednesday we will use Mr. Bowles' Marketplace Scenario Randomizer will be December 30, 2009.

As you can see, this low-tech system somewhat mimics the unpredictable scenarios wartime shoppers experienced on a regular basis. However, we have one fundamental advantage over our 1940s counterparts: we will always know in advance what circumstances we will encounter while shopping. 1940’s shoppers were often not aware of shortages and such until they entered the store.

By the way, here’s an interesting historical fact about how WWII changed shopping habits: up until the beginning of rationing in late 1942 most shoppers (typically housewives or domestic servants) visited their local grocer daily for their food needs. Only when the rationing of gasoline and rubber for tires began did the American public switch to a weekly shopping pattern.

And now to answer the question which I am sure is foremost in your mind: Why does this spectacular historically-based device have "Mr. Bowles" in it's title?

Well, I couldn't help but name it after Chester Bowles, who was the first and most influential director of the Office of Price Administrative - the government body responsible for the rationing program. Some folks vilified Mr. Bowles, but the more I read about him the more I like him. He said things like, "Government is too big and important to be left to politicians," and "There can be no real individual freedom in the presence of economic insecurity." Apparently, lots of other people liked him too, as he was later elected as Governor of Connecticut and served as a U.S. Ambassador to India and Nepal. I'm sure he'll pop up again at some point on Rational Living.

So there it is, folks. One more post closer to Rationing Day and a year of change and reflection.

--Rational Mama


  1. ZOIKS! You're getting close. You're so creative!

  2. This is fantastic. Can I borrow it for my blog? I promise to give you proper credit and link backs. I wanted a way to make my simulation a more accurate and authentic experience, and this is ideal!

  3. You're absolutely welcome to borrow the idea - just keep in mind that UK rationing shortages were different (usually more extreme) than that experienced in the U.S. Good luck on your project!

  4. First comment on your blog - and I do realise this post is from some time ago! I came here via "On The Ration", and I'm very much enjoying reading it.

    If you were feeling masochistic and really wanted to mimic that wartime thang, you could've refused to look at your craft sticks until you'd planned the whole week's food shop, and already gone to the store... Muahahaha. ;-)

    Thanks for providing such entertaining and enlightening reading! x