America’s Stomach: Wartime Food Rationing

Special thanks to our guest contributor Quincy Balius, Education & GOHI Manuscripts Intern at Ohio History Connection.

Food history makes national history personal and helps students connect with broader stories about the World Wars. During World War I, food rationing was a common practice. President Wilson appealed to the American public’s sense of patriotism and compassion for soldiers abroad to encourage food rationing. During World War II, the American government made food rationing mandatory.  

Under food rationing systems in the U.S., each person received their own ration books. The books contained stamps that Americans used to buy rationed items like sugar, coffee, canned food, and red meat. When people bought rationed foods, they had to pay for it with both money and the correct type of ration stamp. Once a person used up their ration stamps for the month, they were unable to purchase any more rationed foods.  

The government portrayed the American public as the “home front” of the World Wars and called on them to support the war effort by preserving and growing their own food. For instance, many Americans participated in home canning during World Wars I and II. Canning allowed people to supplement their food supplies during rationing. For example, people who submitted their canning plans to their local rationing boards could receive extra rations of sugar for canning purposes. Home canning also reduced pressure on the American canning industry. Soldiers abroad needed supplies of cheap processed food produced by the canning industry, which lowered the amount of canned goods available to Americans at home.   

Beyond canning, victory gardens also provided additional food to Americans. Victory gardens were small plots where Americans grew their own fruits and vegetables. Like canning, household gardens created food supplies for Americans at home and freed up commercially produced food for soldiers. To learn more about victory gardens, read our previous blog post here:  

Educators can teach students about food rationing through examining historic ration books and helping students create their own food rationing plans. Educators can also explore wartime recipes, which often use substitutes for rationed foods.  

By studying propaganda posters, students can also learn about concepts of American patriotism during wartime. Food rationing was strongly connected to patriotism. For example, the American government heavily encouraged wartime canning and victory gardens. People who participated in canning and gardens developed feelings of self-sufficiency personal connection to the war effort. World War I and II propaganda posters reveal the connections between food, war, and patriotism.  

Check out the resources below to help you teach about food rationing during wartime. Do you have a resource you enjoy using with your students? Email us at [email protected]. 



Blog image citation: ‘’The Kaiser is Canned’ poster”. National Wartime Garden Commission. Washington, DC. 1918-1919. Ohio History Connection. (Accessed April 2, 2022).

Posted April 19, 2022
Topics: Education

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