Today in 1943, concerned and sometimes panicky homemakers in Glastonbury flocked to area farms seeking potatoes, eggs, poultry and vegetables to feed their families. The food rush came following weeks of increasing food shortages that had culminated in the sudden closure of several local grocery stores the day before, after they simply ran out of food to sell.
The Glastonbury food rush was indicative of a growing food security crisis across Connecticut and the nation, as a country entering the second year of World War II struggled to feed both troops abroad and families on the home front. To regulate and restrict consumption of items critical to the war effort, the federal government had established a rationing system that reached into every home in America. On May 5, 1942, all citizens received “War Ration Card Number One,” quickly dubbed the “Sugar Book,” marking the start of national food restrictions. The booklet contained 28 removeable stamps entitling the holder to purchase one pound of sugar every two weeks. A stamp was to be presented to the store at the time of purchase. No stamp, no sugar.
The following November, coffee was added to the list of rationed foods, and increasing shortages of butter, cheese, eggs and other food commodities made it clear to all that more widespread food rationing loomed ahead.
Fears of food shortages, combined with strong desire to make the country’s first wartime holiday celebrations as “normal” as possible, fueled a late-December food buying binge that put huge pressure on an already limited food supply chain. This had produced the sudden food store closings in Glastonbury and the panicky response, which served to underscore the gravity of the food security situation in Connecticut.
In his inaugural address given four days after the store closings, Governor Raymond Baldwin focused on the importance of helping Connecticut attain food self-sufficiency. “Farm workers are war workers, too,” Baldwin said, “and in these days of food shortages the truth of the statement is borne home to us. . . . The more we produce, the more there will be to divide amongst us.”
Despite efforts on multiple fronts to deal with shortages while increasing food stocks, rationing expanded to meats, butter, cheese, fats, and canned, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables that spring, and rationing continued throughout the war and beyond. Americans’ response to the shortages ranged from patriotic to profiteering. Victory gardens, ration recipes, and a “land Army” of volunteers to help farmers harvest fall crops existed side-by-side with bureaucratic incompetence, producer hoarding and a healthy black market in food products. Black market activities reduced the supply of available chicken so drastically that on May 16, 1945 the Connecticut General Assembly passed War Food Emergency Order No. 1, which enabled the governor to seize more than 100,000 pounds of poultry hidden in storage or in transit to relieve food shortages in the state’s hospitals and charitable institutions. The end of the war four months later brought a marked increase in available food and the emergency food order was rescinded the following September.
A hardship of war that had gnawed at Connecticans for three years, was finally beginning to come to an end.
Amber Degn, “If You Don’t Need It, Don’t Buy It,” Connecticut Explored
“Sacrificing for the Common Good: Rationing in World War II,” National Park Service
“Rationing for the War Effort,” National World War II Museum
Laura Schumm, Food Rationing in Wartime America,” History.com