rationing
Gas ration stamps printed in the 1973 oil crisis, U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

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Rationing

RATIONING

RATIONING. Food rationing is a program by which governments or private organizations oversee the allotment of food to citizens, usually during times of war or scarcity. By ensuring that all people get enough to eat or at least have a chance to purchase highly desired foods, mandatory rationing of food helps maintain citizens' physical health and psychic well-being. In doing so, it helps secure public allegiance and compliance, factors critical to institutional welfare during wartime or in the midst of a food crisis. In addition to ensuring an equitable distribution of scarce resources, rationing accompanied by price controls is designed to combat fierce inflation that often occurs with heightened demand and inadequate supply. Items distributed through such systems are often referred to as rations. Goods bought and sold illicitly outside of rationing and price control programs are said to be on the black market. Rationing is arguably a more democratic system of distributing food and other scarce resources. Theoretically, its most distinct function may be that of leveling economic and class inequality. Those on the lower end of the economic spectrum, for example, and those without the luxury of time to wait in long lines or to scout out caches of available goods, are allowed an equal chance to purchase high-status foods.

Rationing has also been used for more complicated or nefarious reasons. At one point, food allowances given to indigenous peoples in Australia and the United States, among other places, functioned as a form of social control. For Australian Aborigines, food rations were used as a tool to draw people to certain areas; their removal was intended as a form of punishment. Adolf Hitler, convinced that the German public had turned against the Weimar Republic because of food shortages, employed rationing in the 1930s to avoid domestic food emergencies. Occasionally, rationing has been implemented to ensure the unequal distribution of food, as when World War II concentration camp inmates voluntarily rationed food according to age and physical state (in the hope that this would allow the most able-bodied to survive). In early-twentieth-century China, rationing was controlled by elite "team leaders" who were allowed to distribute food and other goods according to personal discretion, which in turn afforded them power and control over local peasants. Most often, however, rationing has been employed to allow a relatively equal dispersal of food among citizens (with some reduction in allotment to infants and young children, and occasionally the very elderly). In Great Britain, World War II rationing is credited with improving the health of many by allowing the economically disadvantaged access to a stable, nutritious food supply. Currently, food rationing is most frequently implemented in countries that are the targets of international sanctions, including Cuba and Iraq.

Food rationing has been practiced in virtually every society of record, from antiquity to the present, in countries all over the globe, including Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States. Rationing was practically universal during World War II, and continued for several years afterward in many parts of the world, including industrialized countries, which traditionally have had a more stable food supply than developing countries, whose governments have tended to implement food rationing more frequently out of necessity.

Foods deemed critical to ration can be either staples or luxuries. Staple foodsthose vital to basic survival and the central elements in a cuisineoften vary according to culture, region, and tradition, and may include rice, flour, bread, milk, meat, cooking oil, canned goods, and salt. Highly desirable, psychologically important items such as cheese, butter, sugar, coffee, tea, and tobacco are arguably as important as staples to ensuring public contentment and cooperation, and thus are regarded as essential to ration. Such nonfood items as shoes, clothing, gasoline, heating oil, and tires are typically rationed in times of scarcity as well.

Food rationing tends to be implemented through two methods, the coupon system or the point system. During World War II, for example, sugar and coffee were rationed in the United States according to the coupon method, under which consumers would relinquish a coupon to purchase an allotted amount every few weeks. For rationing meat, butter, and canned goods, the government introduced the more complicated point system. Each month the federal Office of Price Administration (OPA) issued each person five blue and six red stamps worth ten points each, a total of fifty blue points for processed foods and sixty red points for meat, fats, and some dairy products. Each itemcanned pineapple or pork chops, for instancewas assigned a point value determined by both availability and consumer demand. The point values were periodically reevaluated; for instance, the OPA lowered the point value of canned peaches to encourage increased consumption following a 1943 bumper crop of the fruit. The point system maintained government control over rationing but at the same time allowed the consumer a reasonable amount of control over the family's diet. With such a system, a consumer could choose to spend some of the family's points on more highly desired and scarcer items with high point values, such as beefsteak, knowing that fewer points would be left that month to buy other meats and fats. The system had its flaws, but consumers in general consistently supported it, and some even campaigned to continue rationing through the postwar years in order to allow more food to be distributed to war-ravaged and famine-stricken countries overseas.

The success of rationing in any country is highly dependent on efficient and effective administration and on unyielding honesty of and cooperation among government officials, farmers and food processors, wholesalers, grocers, and consumers. Rationing can break down at any level and through a variety of means: theft of ration books and favoritism in their distribution; lowering or misrepresenting the quality of products produced (shrinking the size of bread loaves; adding inferior grain); selling goods for higher prices or without collecting ration points; hoarding food; or bribery. While rationing has been deemed ineffective in many places, as in the Soviet Union during its early period, it is remarkable that, given its potential to break down at any point, the system has succeeded so much of the time. For the city of Lyons, France, in the Great Winter of 1709, food rationing along with other forms of public relief successfully averted widespread famine. Israel in its early years of statehood relied heavily on rationing to equitably apportion meager supplies of food.

Politics of Rationing

Because voluntary compliance is crucial to the success of rationing, concerted propaganda campaigns, even in openly democratic countries, are designed to urge people to feel personally invested in complying with rationing. Food is politicized, whether consumed in public or in private spaces. With wartime rationing, the grocery store, the kitchen, and the family mealwhere food is purchased, prepared, and consumedbecome public spheres as rhetorically important as the battlefield. Farmers with pitchforks and gardeners with trowels are likened to soldiers bearing rifles. Women, as traditional food procurers and preparers, become akin to soldiers at the battlefront. Wasting or hoarding food is characterized as aiding the enemy. Sacrificing food in order to send more to the military, or growing one's own food so that commercially prepared food is more available to distribute to citizens under enemy rule, is seen as performing one's patriotic duty.

Food rationing can become a positive site for communal expression of democratic obligation. Preventing waste, avoiding black markets, producing food, and abiding by rationing, however trivial they may have seemed, allowed American citizens during World War II to contribute to, and feel a part of, the war effort daily and communally. By sacrificing some of their abundant food supply to send more to the military and to those in desperate need, people could exhibit their patriotism and support of the war. Rationing not only ensured a sufficient, if at times unexciting, diet but also helped instill a sense of public commitment to the war, community involvement, and patriotism. These same sentiments have prevailed in other countries and times as well.

Despite its potential for positive meanings and uses, the implementation and eventual dismantling of rationing can be highly political. Food producers and processors may exert extreme pressure to lift rationing, arguing that consumer demand for goods should be unfettered. Those opposed to centralized food distribution see rationing as placing too much power in hands of government. Government officials benefiting from the program in any number of ways may be reluctant to disassemble the system. While some consumers have regarded food rationing as too restrictive and anticapitalistic, most, in times of crisis, have considered it as the (albeit imperfect) guarantor of their entitlement to a stable food supply.

See also Food as a Weapon of War ; Food Pantries ; Food Riots ; Food Security ; Food Supply, Food Shortages ; Government Agencies, U.S. ; International Agencies ; Military Rations ; Political Economy .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Benjamin, Medea, and Joseph Collins. "Is Rationing Socialist? Cuba' Food Distribution System." Food Policy 10 (Nov. 1985): 327336.

Bentley, Amy. Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Chowdhury, Nuimuddin. "Where the Poor Come Last: The Case of Modified Rationing in Bangladesh." Bangladesh Development Studies 16 (1988): 2754.

Osokina, H. A. "Soviet Workers and Rationing Norms, 19281935: Real or Illusory Privilege?" Soviet and Post-Soviet Review 19, no. 13 (1992): 5369.

Rowse, Tim. White Flour, White Power: From Rations to Citizenship in Central Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Ina. "Bread Rationing in Britain, July 1946July 1948." Twentieth Century British History 4, no. 1 (1993): 5785.

Amy Bentley

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rationing

rationing, allotment of scarce supplies, usually by governmental decree, to provide equitable distribution. It may be employed also to conserve economic resources and to reinforce price and production controls. Originally used in community emergencies and in distributing supplies to sailors, rationing was first organized on a national scale in Great Britain during World War I, and during World War II it spread to most of the world. The methods used have varied according to the degree of rationing needed and to the products. Rationing methods include specific rationing, or allotment in terms of physical units; point rationing, the allotment of points (ration stamps) to be apportioned by the user among commodities of a given group; and value rationing, allotment in terms of expenditure. Rations may be allotted to individuals, institutions, and industrial users, or to communities, as in rural areas of undeveloped countries. In universal rationing, ration currency is issued to everyone in equal amounts; in differential rationing, the allocation is based on need and may vary according to occupation, age, sex, or health. In the so-called flow-back system, ration currency, usually distributed by the government to the consumer, moves upward from the consumer level to the manufacturer or processor as the product moves down. During World War II, rationing in the United States was administered by the Office of Price Administration.

See W. A. Nielander, Wartime Food Rationing in the United States (1947).

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ration

ra·tion / ˈrashən; ˈrā-/ • n. a fixed amount of a commodity officially allowed to each person during a time of shortage, as in wartime: 1918 saw the bread ration reduced on two occasions. ∎  (usu. rations) an amount of food supplied on a regular basis, esp. to members of the armed forces during a war. ∎  (rations) food; provisions: their emergency rations ran out. ∎ fig. a fixed amount of a particular thing: their daily ration of fresh air. • v. [tr.] (usu. be rationed) allow each person to have only a fixed amount of (a particular commodity): shoes were rationed from 1943. ∎  (ration someone to) allow someone to have only (a fixed amount of a certain commodity): they were requested to ration themselves to one glass of wine each.

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"ration." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Encyclopedia.com. 30 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Rationing

RATIONING


Rationing refers to the equitable allocation of scarce or valuable resources among competing consumers who have varying degrees of demand or need. Resources can be rationed informally at the local level on a merchant-by-merchant basis, as was done by many U.S. businesses during the Great Depression. Resources can also be rationed systematically by the government. During World War II (19391945), President Franklin D. Roosevelt (19331945) and Congress, in an effort to eliminate from the economy every ounce of excess and waste, enacted legislation (1942) authorizing the president to establish the War Production Board (WPB) and the Office of Price Administration (OPA).

WPB was assigned the task of dividing scarce resources between the military and civilian production sectors, while the OPA was responsible for administering rationing plans. Both agencies had regional and state branches of enforcement. More than 100 million Americans were issued ration cards, coupons, and certificates, which restricted the quantity of goods that could be purchased and the uses to which they could be put. Windshields were stamped to indicate how much gasoline car owners could buy during a given week. Civilians working outside the defense industry, for example, could buy no more than three gallons per week. Horses, trolley cars, and walking quickly became popular modes of transportation. Rubber, gasoline, and sugar were rationed in 1942, meat and shoes in 1943. By the end of the war the list of items rationed in the United States included typewriters, bicycles, stoves, tea, coffee, canned and processed foods, fats, coal, and an assortment of leather items. Manufacturing stopped altogether for other items deemed unnecessary to the war effort and daily subsistence, such as curlers, electric toasters, waffle irons, cocktail shakers, and lobster forks.

Most Americans understood that it was their patriotic duty to make ends meet within the rationing system, but violations did occur and black markets sprang up around the country. Some amusing blunders befell the system as well: a Pennsylvania rationing office had to close because it failed to ration enough fuel for itself. Nonetheless, domestic rationing played a significant role in increasing the resources available to Allied cause.

See also: Black Market, Office of Price Administration, War Production Board, World War II

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ration

ration allowance of victuals or provisions. XVII. In naval and military use — F. — It. razione or Sp. ración — L. ratiō, -ōn- reckoning, computation, sum or number (for other senses see REASON).

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T. F. HOAD. "ration." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. 30 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

T. F. HOAD. "ration." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. (June 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O27-ration.html

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ration

rationashen, fashion, passion, ration •abstraction, action, attraction, benefaction, compaction, contraction, counteraction, diffraction, enaction, exaction, extraction, faction, fraction, interaction, liquefaction, malefaction, petrifaction, proaction, protraction, putrefaction, redaction, retroaction, satisfaction, stupefaction, subtraction, traction, transaction, tumefaction, vitrifaction •expansion, mansion, scansion, stanchion •sanction •caption, contraption •harshen, Martian •cession, discretion, freshen, session •abjection, affection, circumspection, collection, complexion, confection, connection, convection, correction, defection, deflection, dejection, detection, direction, ejection, election, erection, genuflection, imperfection, infection, inflection, injection, inspection, insurrection, interconnection, interjection, intersection, introspection, lection, misdirection, objection, perfection, predilection, projection, protection, refection, reflection, rejection, resurrection, retrospection, section, selection, subjection, transection, vivisection •exemption, pre-emption, redemption •abstention, apprehension, ascension, attention, circumvention, comprehension, condescension, contention, contravention, convention, declension, detention, dimension, dissension, extension, gentian, hypertension, hypotension, intention, intervention, invention, mention, misapprehension, obtention, pension, prehension, prevention, recension, retention, subvention, supervention, suspension, tension •conception, contraception, deception, exception, inception, interception, misconception, perception, reception •Übermenschen • subsection •ablation, aeration, agnation, Alsatian, Amerasian, Asian, aviation, cetacean, citation, conation, creation, Croatian, crustacean, curation, Dalmatian, delation, dilation, donation, duration, elation, fixation, Galatian, gyration, Haitian, halation, Horatian, ideation, illation, lavation, legation, libation, location, lunation, mutation, natation, nation, negation, notation, nutation, oblation, oration, ovation, potation, relation, rogation, rotation, Sarmatian, sedation, Serbo-Croatian, station, taxation, Thracian, vacation, vexation, vocation, zonation •accretion, Capetian, completion, concretion, deletion, depletion, Diocletian, excretion, Grecian, Helvetian, repletion, Rhodesian, secretion, suppletion, Tahitian, venetian •academician, addition, aesthetician (US esthetician), ambition, audition, beautician, clinician, coition, cosmetician, diagnostician, dialectician, dietitian, Domitian, edition, electrician, emission, fission, fruition, Hermitian, ignition, linguistician, logician, magician, mathematician, Mauritian, mechanician, metaphysician, mission, monition, mortician, munition, musician, obstetrician, omission, optician, paediatrician (US pediatrician), patrician, petition, Phoenician, physician, politician, position, rhetorician, sedition, statistician, suspicion, tactician, technician, theoretician, Titian, tuition, volition •addiction, affliction, benediction, constriction, conviction, crucifixion, depiction, dereliction, diction, eviction, fiction, friction, infliction, interdiction, jurisdiction, malediction, restriction, transfixion, valediction •distinction, extinction, intinction •ascription, circumscription, conscription, decryption, description, Egyptian, encryption, inscription, misdescription, prescription, subscription, superscription, transcription •proscription •concoction, decoction •adoption, option •abortion, apportion, caution, contortion, distortion, extortion, portion, proportion, retortion, torsion •auction •absorption, sorption •commotion, devotion, emotion, groschen, Laotian, locomotion, lotion, motion, notion, Nova Scotian, ocean, potion, promotion •ablution, absolution, allocution, attribution, circumlocution, circumvolution, Confucian, constitution, contribution, convolution, counter-revolution, destitution, dilution, diminution, distribution, electrocution, elocution, evolution, execution, institution, interlocution, irresolution, Lilliputian, locution, perlocution, persecution, pollution, prosecution, prostitution, restitution, retribution, Rosicrucian, solution, substitution, volution •cushion • resumption • München •pincushion •Belorussian, Prussian, Russian •abduction, conduction, construction, deduction, destruction, eduction, effluxion, induction, instruction, introduction, misconstruction, obstruction, production, reduction, ruction, seduction, suction, underproduction •avulsion, compulsion, convulsion, emulsion, expulsion, impulsion, propulsion, repulsion, revulsion •assumption, consumption, gumption, presumption •luncheon, scuncheon, truncheon •compunction, conjunction, dysfunction, expunction, function, junction, malfunction, multifunction, unction •abruption, corruption, disruption, eruption, interruption •T-junction • liposuction •animadversion, aspersion, assertion, aversion, Cistercian, coercion, conversion, desertion, disconcertion, dispersion, diversion, emersion, excursion, exertion, extroversion, immersion, incursion, insertion, interspersion, introversion, Persian, perversion, submersion, subversion, tertian, version •excerption

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