Tuesday, December 29, 2009
RED POINTS (Meats, Cheeses, Fats and Oils) -
TOTAL AVAILABLE: 64 pts
Turkey 5 lbs (bone in) - 15 pts
Macaroni and Cheese (2 boxes) - 1 pt
Butter (1 lb) - 16 pts
Canola Oil (32 oz) - 10 pts
Cheddar Cheese (1 lb) - 8 pts
Cream Cheese (8 oz) - 3 pts
Bologna (10 oz) - 3 pts
Bacon (1 lb) - 8 pts
TOTAL USED: 64 pts.
Whew! Barely scraped by, but if we weren't also rationing poultry we would have had much more wiggle room. That bacon was a last minute addition for Wednesday's dinner once I saw that we could afford the points. It's bacon!
BLUE/GREEN POINTS (Canned/Frozen/Dried Produce) -
TOTAL AVAILABLE: 192 pts.
Green Beans (2 cans) - 12 pts
Cream of Mushroom Soup (1 can) - 4 pts
Frozen Snap Peas (1 lb) - 12 pts
Fruit (2 cans) - 32 pts
Spaghetti Sauce (1 can) - 8 pts
Carrots (1 can) - 6 pts
Dried Black Beans (1 lb) - 2 pts
Chicken Broth (5 cans) - 20 pts
Raisins (3/4 lb) - 3 pts
Applesauce (25 oz) - 21 pts
Juice (48 oz) - 9 pts
Spinach (1 can) - 8 pts
TOTAL USED: 137 pts
Hmm...we still have 55 blue/green points to play with...which may come in handy (I'll 'splain later). We're really feeling the lack of fresh produce, especially fruit, since we are subject to seasonal availability just like our WWII civilian counterparts. I did splurge and by some clementines, though.
We also purchased our allotted two pounds of sugar and one adult's five-week coffee rations.
Here's our plans for all these rationed items, plus their non-rationed compadres:
Saturday: Roast turkey with gravy, green bean casserole, and stuffing (using day-old bread that had been stored in the freezer)
Sunday: Turkey and homemade noodle soup with cabbage salad
Monday: Sweet potato and (frozen) butternut squash soup with fresh-baked bread
Tuesday: Baked potatoes with cheese and sour cream and (frozen) snap peas
Wednesday: Pancakes, bacon and canned fruit
Thursday: Spaghetti marinara with carrots
Friday: Black bean soup with corn bread
Lunches this week consist mostly of left-overs, peanut butter and honey sandwiches and non-rationed dried soup mixes. Speaking of soup, the soup on Monday night was not that great. Really. Not good. Orange mush with too much pepper. But we ate it and I rewarded the family by baking our first historically-accurate treat: Lafayette Gingerbread (historical recipes will get their own blog post shortly). And I will fully disclose that we also finished off the last of the ice cream that was hibernating in the freezer since Eowyn's birthday party a few weeks ago. But that is gone now...long gone. Adios. Sigh.
Anyhoo, back to those extra blue/green points...we're getting together with a few friends on New Year's Eve and we need to bring some party noshings, so I imagine we'll be dipping into that surplus, plus providing some baked goods. No traditional little smokies or sweet and sour meatballs or cheese ball. But I also promise to not bring cans of cooked spinach and navy beans, either. I'll let you know what I come up with for that occasion.
Tomorrow night is our first experience with Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer. As challenging as it was to make a menu this week just keeping to basic points my mind already cramps a bit when I think about meal planning with key ingredients either missing or worth more points. Of course, they could also be worth less points...gotta keep the optimism going. Needless to say we'll keep you posted on what restrictions we'll be working with next week!
Be safe - there's a war on, you know!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
These allotments follow traditional U.S. civilian rationing during WWII:
Gasoline: maximum of 193 miles per week combined for our two vehicles (equivalent to the 11 gallons per week we would have been allowed during the War).
Sugar: maximum 2 pounds per week for our family of four.
Meat/Cheese/Oils: maximum 64 red points per week, following point values on this handy dandy chart (we are including poultry, which was not part of the original WWII U.S. civilian rationing program).
Canned, Frozen and Processed Fruits, Vegetables and Soups: up to 192 blue/green ration points per week following the handy dandy chart. [Editorial Note: during the 4th week of the rationing year it was discovered that we are only allowed 48 blue/green points. Big change!]
Coffee: Up to 1 pound per adult every 5 weeks.
All of the above restrictions, as well as some additional food items, are subject to change as a result of Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer.
In addition to the above we have also incorporated a host of additional restrictions during the rationing year:
Eating Out: we will eat out at a restaurant as a family only once a month, and I will have one weekend lunch out with the girls just once a month as well.
Limited Processed Foods: minimally processed and/or minimally-packaged foods will be preferred over other options (i.e. "real" carrots vs. bags of mini peeled carrots, no prepackaged snack cakes).
Seasonal Produce: only seasonal fresh produce may be purchased, following this list (if off-season, produce must be dried, canned or frozen and thus cost more rationing points).
Soda: permitted at a maximum of three 12 oz servings per week, per adult.
Limited New Purchases: all purchases must be evaluated for needs vs. wants and when possible second-hand options should be considered (Craig's List, Ebay, Goodwill and Freecycle).
We're also in the process of re-evaluating our energy usage in the Rational Living household, so additional energy ration guidelines may be added. We're notoriously bad about leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms and don't use power strips to power-down idle electronics. But that will be fodder for a future post!
In the meantime...pretty much the entire gang at the Rational Living household suspects that the eating out restrictions are where we will feel the most pain.
How often does your family eat out? Do you have a family plan about eating out, or is it more loosey-goosey?
Thanks for stopping by!
Only half-way through Rationing Day and what a day it has been already! We had a blizzard here over Christmas so I spent the morning trying to dig out some sidewalk space while The Man of the House is at work. Then the girls and I headed to the opposite side of town to get a needed item for a home repair (leaky kitchen faucet), and unsuccessfully tried to exchange Sissy's damaged #1 present at Barnes and Noble (pages missing!). On the way back we stopped at the grocery store for our first rational shopping.
It was definitely a different type of shopping experience - especially in the produce department. Instead of apples and bananas we purchased a few cans of fruit, applesauce, and raisins. I splurged and bought a few clementines, since it wouldn't have been unheard of for those to be on the market here in December 1943. Otherwise, the only fresh produce purchased was carrots, onions and cabbage which are all available year round and then two sweet potatoes which will be off-limit due to seasonality beginning in January.
I didn't buy any meat or cheese because over half of our 64 red ration points were used to claim the small amount of cheese, butter and oils we already have in the house. You see, citizens were technically required to report all quantities of rationed food items already in their cupboards at the start of rationing. I'm sure there was a fair amount of fudging in regards to this task, kind of like the time-honored tradition of lying about your weight on your driver's license: you give a ballpark figure but no one expects it to actually be accurate. So I fudged a little, but now our red points are all squared up. I also claimed our allotted two pounds of sugar for this week to address the sugar that we already have on hand.
I did face one dilemma as I was menu planning for the week and making the grocery/ration points list: we have a turkey. A big, fat, hefty turkey that I bought at an amazing price during Thanksgiving week and then tossed into the chest freezer. I had full intentions of cooking it before rationing began but between school recitals, birthday parties and holiday events it never happened. If we were strictly following 1940s rationing this wouldn't be such a big deal since fresh poultry was never rationed. But since we adapted the rationing to include poultry I was faced with the fact that I have a giant piece of meat worth approximately 78 red ration points - more than all the red points we're allotted for one week! After lots of consideration I came to this conclusion: after the turkey is roasted today I will split the meat into four equal portions, each valued at 20 red points. One portion will be used this week for roast turkey and then turkey and noodle soup. The other three portions will be put in the freezer to use in subsequent weeks at their 20 red point values.
So, for the record, here's what our dinner menu for the next week looks like:
Saturday (today): Roast turkey with gravy, green bean casserole, and stuffing (using day-old bread that had been stored in the freezer)
Sunday: Turkey and homemade noodle soup with cabbage salad
Monday: Sweet potato and (frozen) butternut squash soup with fresh-baked bread
Tuesday: Baked potatoes with cheese and sour cream and (frozen) sno peas
Wednesday: Pancakes and canned fruit
Thursday: Spaghetti marinara with carrots
Friday: Black bean soup with corn bread
Oh, and by the way, despite the 8" of snow and lots of snow drifts we managed to not get stuck once on our 10+ miles of shopping travels this morning...until two houses away from our alley. A nice citizen helped push our van free and then we got stuck again in the alley. Ten minutes, two shovels, two large pieces of cardboard and lots of help from Sissy and Eowyn and I finally got the van back in the garage. Needless to say, I'm quite content to stay home for the rest of the day, smelling the roasting turkey and sipping on my rationed coffee.
Connect Four, anyone?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Rational Mama - Main author of the Rational Living blog. History nut, sci-fi geek, avid vegetable gardener and foodie. Has a history of establishing (and eventually ending) challenging relationships with food (kosher, vegetarian, no dairy, local...). Serves as main researcher for the rationing project. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be unsatisfied food cravings.
The Man of the House (TMOTH) - Reader, philosopher, nerd, and even-tempered goofball. An all-or-nothing kind of guy. Guest author and moral compass for Rational Living. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be explaining why we've chosen this project.
Sissy - Oldest of the two Rational Living children. Book reader, piano player and all-around animal lover. Pickier of the two kids when it comes to food. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be the reduced sugar intake (she has a serious sweet tooth).
Eowyn - Youngest of the two Rational Living children. Family clown, movie watcher, and lover of pets (her current wish is to have a pet hamster). Rather adventuresome with her food choices. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be going out to eat only once a month.
So that's the Rational Living family. Hope you and your family are enjoying this beautiful (and blizzardy) season!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
Step right up and view the amazing, stupendous, death-defying Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer!!!
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.
*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.
- 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.)
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.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Fresh fruits and vegetables were never rationed during WWII (thank goodness), but the market was very much effected by transportation limitations caused by the war. As a result, most produce was available on a local-level only. So, no Mexican strawberries in February or New Zealand kiwis in...well...ever during the war. In our part of the central plains this means virtually no "exotic" fruits and vegetables and extremely limited amounts of citrus fruits during the rationing year. Banana availability was sporadic, which is how we will handle that particular issue with our younger daughter who, if given her druthers, would consider making bananas half her diet.
U.S. fresh produce production sky-rocketed during the war, both commercially and in private "victory gardens." Victory gardens will be covered (repeatedly) at Rational Living during the growing season, but to get a sense of how much was produced consider this: in 1943 3/5ths of the U.S. population tilled and weeded and harvested in non-commercial gardens, producing over 8 million tons of food that accounted for 40% of the fresh produce consumed that year. Wow. Make no mistake, the pressure will be on for this avid vegetable gardener during the rationing year. We'll be able to supplement our fresh produce through the farmer's market and conventional grocery stores as long as the produce is seasonable. Here's a great list of locally seasonable produce we'll be following during the rationing program.
If we want to eat "outside the chart" then it will have to be either canned, frozen or dried produce. We'll use the green (or blue, depending on the period) points following a system similar to the red point/meat rationing program previously described. For our family of four we'll have 192 green/blue points to use each week (or 768 per month), and we'll be using the same handy-dandy chart as with the red point program. One note: our family is way more reliant on frozen produce than the typical 1940s family. In the 40's having a freezer was a bit of a luxury, hence limited availability of frozen foods and their inherently high point value. Sigh. But make no mistake, I'm willing to pay (the extra points) for that luxury.
The same chart outlines point values for fats/oils and "soft" cheeses - part of the red point ration program which we will have to split with meat purchases. Traditional hard cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella will be rationed at eight points per pound, per historic example. Of course, there were some lower-point alternatives, such as Velveeta, available - and to be honest, Velveeta will always have a place at the Rational Living household. Fresh milk and (uncreamed) cottage cheese served as readily available un-rationed sources of protein.
One last food for thought (or is that thought for food?): grains were never rationed in the U.S. so we will typically have rice and pasta and plenty of flour for bread, pancakes, etc. That is, unless we experience a sudden shortage via our Marketplace Scenario Randomizer which we'll be using on a weekly basis...but more on that later!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
For me...I think chocolate would be at the top of the list, along with cheese. Mmm...
Sunday, December 6, 2009
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.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Okay, there’s a little over a month to go until rationing begins and I’m still trying to figure out what, exactly, some of our food rations will be. You see, there were different kinds of rationing - certificate rationing, coupon rationing, point rationing, etc. , and availability of rationed goods varied depending upon seasonality/supply and point values (which fluctuated throughout the three-plus years of food rationing).
To simplify things for our rationing year there will be standardized, base point values for those items, such as meats, fats, and canned and frozen produce, that were regulated via point rationing. I’ll get more in to that and how we’ll be recreating periods of shortages and surpluses when I blog out the details of that type of rationing (yes, I’m totally stalling on that until I can get a chance to head over to KSHS and do a bit more research first).
This much I know: sugar was the first food to be rationed in the United States. In fact, there were shortages of sugar even before the U.S. entered the war due to difficulties in importing the sweet stuff through hostile oceans. The official U.S. sugar ration began in May of 1942 and allowed ½ pound of sugar per person per week, regardless of age. This is an example of uniform coupon rationing - everyone was assigned the same ration per period.
While a ½ pound per week may sound like an abundant share to us modernites (my family’s ration is 8 lbs per month! doesn‘t sound too bad, does it?) it’s important to remember that our easy outsourcing of prepackaged sweets (brownie and cake mixes, Little Debbie Snack Cakes, cookies in sterile plastic containers and mocha-latte-cappuccinos with whipped cream on top) were virtually non-existent for WWII households. Most sweets were home-baked and the typical 40’s housewife (or working mother) was judged not only on the quality of her sweet confections but on their quantity as well,. The cookie jar was a treasured staple of every middle-class kitchen.
Remember that ½ pound of sugar per week per person? That was a BIG deal on the home front. First, there wasn’t always a sufficient amount of sugar to meet rationed allowances. Second, the ration was half of what U.S. citizens were consuming pre-war. Half. Fifty percent. Civilian cooks scrambled to adapt recipes to use some of the non-rationed sweeteners including molasses, honey and maple syrup. Creative cooks developed recipes that used sweetened condensed milk, pudding mixes and sodas instead of large amounts of sugar- like this cola cake recipe here.
Sweet treats were still available from bakeries, which experienced only a seventy percent drop in sugar allowances as compared with their pre-war levels. In fact, the number of bakeries actually increased in 1943 and 1944. I’m sure generalized sugar scarcity, combined with a working woman’s busy schedule, helped support some of those upstarts.
So what does all of this mean to our family? Well, all this typing about brownies and cakes has made me hungry. But beside that, it means that during the rationing year we will not purchase any prepackaged convenience sweets. No cake or brownie mixes or cookies in colorful bags or boxes. No grocery store cupcakes for birthday parties or frozen pies for the holidays. No snack cakes (good-bye, Little Debbie, you've been a good friend). What baked sweets we have will be made from scratch and use our allotted sugar rations. I make a superb carrot cake and have been meaning to perfect my pie crust, so this won’t be all martyrdom. Also, candy production remained strong during the war so we won’t be robbed of all quick sweets - a rare candy bar or lollipop will be allowed (and hopefully prevent any cries of abuse from our girls).
One thing I would like to do is purchase most of our sugar rations using sustainably-grown sugar. For more information on the sustainable sugar initiative and the environmental impact of traditionally-grown (i.e. slash-and-burn with unfair labor practices) sugar, click here.
Honestly, I have to say that the sugar rationing aspect of the next year doesn’t seem that daunting to me. Of course, I’m not in the middle of a full-blown brownie craving, either. It will be interesting to see just how our family adapts to these new boundaries. We might just realize that our sweet tooth is bigger than we realized, or maybe we will loose our palate for highly-processed sweets. What I do know is that after typing this post I really need to go make brownies. Now.
P.S. Two great books that include handy information on sugar rationing during WWII are Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked, by Joanne Lamb Hayes, and Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity by Amy Bentley
Saturday, October 31, 2009
In between savory bites we revisited the (often-discussed in our house) idea that while some people have more than us, many many more people in this world have much less; less access to safe drinking water, less healthy food, less availability of quality jobs, less opportunity for education and so on. This is a fairly consistent discussion in our house and the girls have used that discussion as a springboard for donating to the Heifer Project on more than one occasion. So, they were totally with us on this part of the conversation. Now for the history lesson…
We segued into a lesson about WWII and what a big and important war it was. Again, this was not a completely new concept for the girls because, 1) we’re history nerds and have spoken to the girls about it before and 2) the story of Molly in the American Girl series of book takes place during WWII and the girls have read at least one of Molly’s books. Thanks, Molly. We talked about how people in American tried to use only their share (their “ration”) so that the army and soldiers could use the rest to fight the war. And people did it, mostly willingly, because the cause was just that important. Okay, their eyes may have glazed over at one point during the history lesson but in all the girls did a valiant job staying with the speech.
Finally, it was time to interweave the bits together with our journey. Over melted cheese and refried beans we explained that for one year our family will live on those same WWII rations (or the modern equivalent) to show people that they can live with less, and maybe even should live with less - especially if it means that others who need it can have more. The others may be people trying to scrape together a daily existence or groups of people trying to help right environmental wrongs. Either way, we are going to be making some big changes. Reduced gasoline usage, reduced meat consumption (we’re not a big meat household to begin with), limited processed foods and few purchases of new items. And then we waited…and waited…and waited. The girls said they were fine with the decision. Really. No protests. A few simple questions, but no pouty lips or folded arms. Maybe they were drunk on queso, but they seemed to accept the plan just fine.
Since then we’ve pointed out some things that we will and won’t be during out rationing year; we WILL be walking more and making some certain foods from scratch rather than from a box, we WON'T be eating out more than once (maybe twice) a month and we WON’T be going on extended road-trip vacations. And still, so far, so good. The other day our older daughter, P., declared in a noticeably sour tone, “My birthday will be when we’re rationing!” Ah, someone’s been thinking. Her birthday is in January and will be our first big family event after rationing has begun. I explained that we’ll save up our sugar to make sure we have plenty to make whatever cake or sweets she wants, and that we may be able to make some concessions for gifts others are giving her. After all, we don’t want the girls to feel like they’re being punished. I also pointed out that every one of us will be having a birthday during the rationing year, so fair is fair.
While we plan on upping our charitable giving during the next year, the husband and I have thrown around the idea of using some of the unspent funds from the year of rationing (unspent from less gas usage, less eating out and fewer purchases of new shiny things) to go towards a big, fun family vacation. The kind that requires a week off of work and sunscreen and maybe even hotel rooms. For those of you who know us, you understand what a big deal this would be. Typically, our vacations consist of short camping trips or quick tours through cities were we crash on friends’ floors. As much as we love those types of trips, the idea of a nice family escape might be enough to keep us all (children and adults) in line during the rationing year.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
As I type there's around 75 days left until R-Day, the day my family begins living a lifestyle based on WWII rationing, or at least the modern equivalent. And one of the first components of our lives to be limited will be gasoline.
By mid-1942, most family automobiles had an "A" sticker in their window, indicating that their gasoline ration was at the low end of the scale - typically three to four gallons per week during the war. Vehicles driven by personnel considered essential to the war effort were graced with a "B" sticker, earning eight gallons of gasoline per week. Industrial war workers fell within the "B" category. "C" stickers were for physicians, ministers, mail carriers and such whose jobs were considered critical to society. "T" stickers were reserved for trucks and other over-the-road transport while rare "X" stickers were for members of Congress and other elite VIPs. I haven't found specific gasoline allowance figures for the "C" and "T" stickers, but I know that they were higher than the "B" allotment, and "X" stickers earned the owner a basically un-rationed amount of gasoline.
Originally, the aim of gas rationing was to reduce the wear on tire rubber, since this natural resource (which was made from rubber trees now largely under Japanese control) was essential to the war effort. "Victory Speed" campaigns cropped up, touting lower traveling speeds (typically a max of 35 mph) to reduce tire wear and tear. However, most drivers ignored these limits (sounds stereotypically American, huh?).
So gas rationing was originally one prong of a two-pronged effort to redirect rubber away from citizen consumers so that more was available for military vehicles and supplies. How badly the rationing of gasoline effected Americans varied greatly based upon many factors including access to public transportation and proximity to essential locations such as employment and food markets. And while most cars in the 1940s averaged only 15-20 mpg (what we would call a "clunker" today), most individuals were not too far removed from their community centers to feel a dramatic crunch in their lifestyle (remember, this is before the days of urban sprawl and the death of rural towns). In fact, in late 1942 a whopping 95% of workers polled in Wichita, KS still drove their cars to work!
But this sure ain't the 1940s, and urban sprawl is definitely a reality in our modest-sized city (population of approximately 120,000). So, what does gasoline rationing mean for us? Well, first we had to consider some differences between the WWII scenario and today's lifestyle.
The range for miles per gallon in the 1940s was between 15 to 20, or roughly 17.5 mpg on average. Today, in the world of fuel-efficient economy models and hybrids the average is often 30+ mpg, which means our contemporary cars go farther than 1940s cars on the same gallon of gas (okay, not quite the same gallon of gas...ours is unleaded and contains ethanol). That comparison seems to suggest that following the exact same ticket allowances mentioned above might be too generous for our contemporary experiment.
But, you point out (really, I can hear you starting this line of thinking already), modern communities are so much more widespread in their distribution of resources that the sheer sprawl of a city requires one to drive farther for essential functions. For example, an individual in the 1940s typically drove (or walked) less than one or two miles to the grocery store; in today's communities a similar task may require four or five miles worth of travel one way.
So keeping the same amount of rationed gasoline with our more fuel-efficient cars makes sense, no?
Well, this back and for, tit for tat comparison could go on endlessly - or at least until everyone involved has lost interest and chosen to drive 12 miles round trip for a mocha-brownie double scoop to get their minds off of such debate. So I'll spare you much of the conversation (the ice cream is up to you) and let you know the formula we settle upon for our year of rationing. Yup, it's a formula. I'm no math wiz, so hopefully I can explain it to you in a way that actually makes sense.
In our family my car would earn an "A" sticker, which unfortunately does not make me part of the A Team (I pity the fool!) but does mean that my car "earns" three gallons per week.
My husband's vehicle would earn a "B" sticker since his 1940s employment equivalent would have made him part of the war supply chain. Maybe. He works in one of those cavernous retail distribution warehouses that ships consumer goods out to over 60 stores in seven states. While not exactly a war related occupation, in a 1940s scenario his distribution center would most likely be flipped to distribute war goods instead of clothing and home furnishing chotchkes. Thus, another eight gallons of gas per week.
This brings our family total up to 11 gallons per week by WWII standards.
Now, here's a bit of honesty: the idea of going to the gas station each week and filling up each vehicle with its appropriated number of gallons sounds really tedious. I admit it. You're not committed to the experiment, you say. That's not sticking to the 1940s example, I hear. Somewhat true. But if we were in the 1940s there would be at least two gas stations within spitting distance of my house and I'd never have to leave the car to get gasoline because it'd be full service with a cute teenage boy cleaning my windshield to boot. So, yes. We've changed the fine details, but I think we're still within the spirit of the rationing program. As such, here's the first modern deviation from the 1940s model: we're not rationing our number of gallons per week, per se, but instead rationing our number of miles.
Here's how it works: in the 1940s our 11 gallons would have allowed our family approximately 193 miles of travel per week, based on that average of 17.5mpg. Thus, our rationing experiment will allow our family a total of 193 miles per week for the year. Each Sunday we'll reset the trip meters in our vehicles and on Saturday nights we'll record the number of miles traveled that week. We'll have to monitor usage and compare notes during the week to make sure we don't go over. I really hope we don't go over.
On paper, at least, this doesn't look like much of a challenge, since our essential mileage each week (both of us to/from work, girls to/from school, piano lessons, church and routine shopping) totals around 95 miles per week. That leaves us around 100 miles per week for entertainment, socializing and other out-and-about tasks. Sounds pretty easy, right? Right? That's why we're not allowing ourselves any extra miles to accomodate sprawl. But our Quicken records for the past year suggest that our actual usage is closer to 14 or so gallons per week, which is over 300 miles per week. Ugh.
How does this compare to everyone else's gasoline usage? How many gallons per week do you use? How many miles per week do you travel? I have a suspicion that our usage is already a bit lower than many families because we live in a central location in our community - trips for shopping and general errands are relatively short. And, in general, we're pretty decent about trying to make our errand runs as efficient as possible.
But still...Quicken suggest that we'll have to cut a chunk of miles out of our usage to fall within the 193 mile limit. We've already made some changes like walking to work (me - weather permitting) and carpooling (husband) to reduce our usage even further. This is one of those things where our environmental consciousness nicely coincides with the rationing project. I like it when that happens.
On the other hand, out-of-town trips to see family and friends will be challenging, or nearly impossible. Can we save up unused miles from week to week? Maybe so, but I think there would be some sort of limit (after all, during WWII a citizen could only save up as much as their fuel tank would hold). According to Mapquest it is 300 miles round trip to see my mother. The only way that could happen is if we save up gas during the week and head her way on a Saturday, then reset the trip meter the next day (Sunday) for the return trip. Of course, that would leave us with just 43 miles of travel for the remainder of the week if we have exhausted our savings. Hmm...this requires a bit more thought.
So there's your first lesson in WWII rationing and an explanation of how we're working with one of the key rationed resources. We've got to figure out how the "storing" of any extra miles may work and what limitations would be required. Luckily, we still have seventy-some days to figure it out! Let me know if you have any suggestions.
P.S. Two really wonderful websites with good information are from the Ames Historical Society and the Plains Humanities Alliance. The latter has links to 1940s newspaper articles highlighting the challenges of rationing in the central plains region.
Monday, October 5, 2009
The date is set: December 26, 2009.
What is so special about that date? The day after Christmas? Yes. The fifth day after the winter solstice? That, too. Our daughters' seventh day of winter break? Yup. All these are correct, but in our household that day will soon be known as R-Day. What's R-Day? Well, let me explain...
Back in my first blog post on Rational Living I eluded to my interest in WWII rationing and how I ponder what it would be like for our family to live within those parameters of discipline and sacrifice. Ponder, ponder, ponder. Pondering is good, it makes you think. A lot. And after years of thinking, our family will finally be making the commitment: for approximately one year we will live, to the best of our abilities, within the guidelines of WWII rationing. And it all begins Dec. 26, 2009.
Don't know much about WWII rationing? Here's your history lesson in a nutshell...Rations were imposed in America once we officially entered the war (after the bombing of Pearl Harbor). While other nations, most notably the UK, began rationing (and fighting) years earlier, the US's delay in entering the war postponed any serious changes in resource management. But once the American industrial complex became focused on supplying the needs of the armed forces and the soldiers fighting for freedom, it became clear that American civilians' gluttonous consumption of goods could not continue if the war effort was to be well-supplied. And thus, rationing was mandated.
At first, only "industrial" materials such as rubber and fuel oil were rationed, beginning in early 1942. But soon such staples as sugar and coffee were only available in restricted amounts. Eventually, a majority of food items (beef, pork, all canned foods, cheese, butter and fats) as well as everyday goods such as shoes, appliances and gasoline, were rationed. Different items were rationed in different ways; points per item or a set amount per person were the most common approaches. Shortages, even of rationed items, became common as the military devoured all kinds of supplies for the war. So even if you had enough ration points for cheeseburger supplies it didn't always mean that those commodities were available for purchase. And while Americans occasionally complained about missing that steak dinner or patching together a pair of worn shoes that would otherwise be replaced, they complied. The majority of Americans understood that the war, a greater good, needed those resources. In a 1944 poll of Americans, 90% responded that food rationing provided all the nutrition their families needed. Needed. And that was good enough.
In this movement to sacrifice wants for needs, Americans did something amazing: they completely reorganized their consumer habits to work towards a common goal. This was, after all, the Greatest Generation.
But my family and I are not part of the Greatest Generation. My husband and I are thirty-something, middle-class, college-educated parents living in the beautiful central plains. Why would we do such a thing? Well, sometimes you just need to stretch beyond your comfort zone; to twist and reach and strain to figure out just how flexible (or crazy) you are. Part of this is a bit of a history experiment: how many of us have read accounts of pioneers or Renaissance poets and wondered if we could have hacked it? Let's be honest - this will be a lifestyle change for sure. But mostly, this experiment is about learning how much you're willing to change to make a change. What if we could somehow cut our energy consumption or carbon footprint by half in a year. AND still have enough. Enough. That would be worth it, right? What if we were forced to learn more about our community and neighbors to find otherwise limited resources? I'm 100% certain that there will be moments of weakness and regret, but all the good adventures have those, right?
My family and I are not part of the Greatest Generation, but I'd like to think that we're part of the Next Greatest Generation.
And yes, some like-minded folks out there have already attempted similar feats - most have lasted less than 3 months. As far as I know, we're the only suckers...er...brave souls, to commit to a year.
Some of the details of the year's rationing are already solidified (food and gasoline rationing amounts), while other elements are still squishy and up for debate (exact rationing schedule and air-conditioning...my wonderful sport of a husband is bemoaning the idea of no air-conditioning), but we have a while to dream and plan. But soon we'll need to get the skeleton of this thing put together so that we can discuss it with our daughters. R-Day is less than 3 months away.
So, use your favorite blog management tool to subscribe to Rational Living for plan details as R-Day approaches, and spread the word. There will be plenty of insights, victories and catastrophes as the project progresses.
So...anyone want to join us?
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I have to admit that I drug my feet for weeks when it came to watching this film. Yes, The Future of Food had been floating around my Netflix queue for a little over a month. It wanted to be watched, yet it stayed near the bottom of the queue, grasping for recognition, longing for a higher position. Why did I delay watching it? Well, partly because we have the only-one-video-at-a-time Netflix subscription, so it takes a while to make progress in the queue. Additionally, we share that queue with our two daughters and, frankly, things like Hotel for Dogs (pretty painless for a kid's movie) and Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (sigh) held sway. Some of my reluctance was based on the limited publicity I had seen for the film. The Future of Food was directed, written and co-produced by Deborah Koons Garcia (widow of Jerry Garcia) and was all the rage in natural foodie circles when released in 2005. A lot of the advertising focused around quotes like...
"We used to be a nation of farmers, but now it's less than two percent of the population in the United States. So a lot of us don't know a lot about what it takes to grow food."
--Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farms
"If you eat food, you need to see The Future of Food..."
I already read a fair bit of natural foodie wisdom and know where most food comes from, so the idea of spending my entertainment time focused on the same subjects did not seem that appealing. But eventually, The Future Food won out and appeared in my mailbox on an unseasonably cool August morning. And then it sat next to the TV for a few days, once again relegated to the land of the ignored. Finally, a nice quite evening (i.e., children asleep and hubby off with "the boys") afforded the perfect opportunity for watching (while crocheting, of course).
Now that I've seen it, let me make this clear: The Future of Food is not just about where food comes from. This documentary offers an in-depth look into genetically modified (GM) foods, which are most likely on your shopping lists, in your cupboards and in your bellies. Unless the packaging is clearly labeled as "certified organic" or "non-GMO," it is very likely that any soy, corn or wheat in the commercial foods you buy have been genetically modified. The Future of Food provides a nice, easy-to-understand foundation on GM foods for anyone not already familiar with the topic; why foods are modified, how they are modified and what the concerns are with GM foods. Additionally, the documentary highlights the extremely shady and downright dirty tactics used by GM seed companies and manufacturers such as Monsanto. Trust me, after reviewing the business practices of Monsanto that "Greed is Good" speech Michael Douglas' character gives in the movie Wall Street just doesn't go far enough.
Regardless of your opinion about GM foods, The Future of Food is likely to affect your purchasing habits. Whether you're ambivalent about the origination of GM foods (hey, whatever it takes to make a better tomato), or view GM foods as dangerous abominations (no E. coli-laced Frankencorn for me, thankyouverymuch) Monsanto's relentless pursuit to destroy the average farmer's ability to maintain control over their livelihoods is disgusting. And a review of their international practices will surely make your stomach turn (or is that the GM corn chips you had with lunch?). My determination to reduce the amount of GM foods in my family's diet now stems no only from health concerns but also out of spite for the manipulative, deceptive shenanigans used by the GM industry which, by the way, had a field day getting GM company advocates into key governmental positions during the G.W. Bush years. Surprised?
So if you feel like you need a crash (or even refresher) course in the genetically modified food debate, I think the 90 minutes it takes to watch The Future of Food will be well worth your time. And you can even hop over to www.thefutureoffood.com and watch the trailer. Just don't let it sit at the bottom of your Netflix queue for too long!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Both my husband and myself had fond memories of clotheslines from childhood - those technicolor makers of shade and instant fortresses. But we knew that clotheslines provided much more. Specifically, a clothes line is a solar-powered clothes dryer; a backyard stand against pollution and global warming. We chose a telescoping model for two specific reasons: 1) We have a smallish, urban backyard and didn't want the clothesline to significantly hinder how the space could be used while clothes were on the line, and 2) During cold weather and, say, lawn parties, the pole can be removed from the base, leaving only a small concrete patch flush with the ground. Our particular model can hold about three loads of laundry at a time and was a cinch to install - just one bag of concrete mix and a concrete form was needed.
The benefits of drying your clothes on a clothesline are many.
- It's free! Drying clothes in a dryer costs on average about 30 cents per load.
- Environmentally friendly bleach alternative! The sun's rays are quite effective at removing stains. Granted, they can also fade a favorite shirt so drying certain items wrong-side out is recommended. If your clothesline is in a shady area you won't have this concern.
- Community-building! I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten caught up on the neighborhood scoop while out at the clothesline. Folks lean over the fence to chat when you have a clothesline.
- Meditation! Hanging clothes up on a clothesline and taking them down are examples of the types of mindless tasks that let your spirit relax.
- Sunshine fresh! Sun dried clothes smell, well, like sunshine - need I say more?
Of course, there are those naysayers that poo-poo the idea of clotheslines. Here's a few I've heard:
Clotheslines can be such an eye-sore. Isn't it horrible to show your underclothes to the whole world? Well, we make an effort to hang any unmentionables towards the center of our clothes line so that subsequent items block them from view. A three-line long wire clothesline would afford the same option.
Don't the birds poop all over the clothes? Umm, no. For this reason I don't recommend putting your clothesline under a tree, but our current clothesline sits under a power line (aka bird wire) and I'm only aware of one "bomb" in the last six years. The odds are clearly in our favor.
Aren't the clothes wrinkled? The condition of your clothes will only be as good as your technique; if you hang the clothes bunched up and wrinkled then that's how they'll dry. A quick shake and careful pinning and clothes are often removed from the line with less wrinkles than if they sat in the finished dryer for 5 minutes past the buzzer.
But the towels are so stiff and scratchy! True, sun dried towels have a different initial texture than towels slathered in petroleum-derived fabric softeners that were dried in fossil fuel-using dryers. But sun dried towels are more absorbent! Seriously, fabric softeners leave a film on fabric that retards absorption. And that characteristic stiffness is short-lived - as soon as you start using a sun dried towel it begins to soften up.
You're not really saving that much money and energy, so why bother? My family does roughly 4 to 5 loads of laundry per week, which translates into about $1.50 worth of savings per week. No, that doesn't seem like much of a savings. But when you consider that clothes dryers account for an average of 15% of a home's utility usage, you can see how using a clothesline is a cheap and easy way to save a bit of your budget. Plus, if all the homes in the United States used clotheslines exclusively for just 5 months out of the year, imagine the reduction in fossil-fuel based energy demand!
Do you use a clothesline? If yes, what are your favorite things about using one? If not, what's holding you back?
Now, I will be the first to acknowledge that using a clothesline has one serious draw-back: it's seasonal. Like most folks we've used the electric dryer during the colder months, or on a summer day that turned out to be more rainy than sunny. It would be great to have an indoor alternative, especially during the colder months when the drying clothes can add much-need moisture into the air. We've used drying racks inside the house with some success, but their cost ($15 plus dollars each) provides a bit of a set back, since we'd need around 8 of them to dry just one load of laundry. This past winter the husband got creative and hung a sturdy line near the 9 foot tall ceiling of our main living level. It snaked from the dining room through the living room and could hold nearly two loads of laundry (some of you had the pleasure of viewing this oddity). This was a convenient option but a bit of an eyesore at times. And, we had to learn the do's and don'ts of using this type of laundry line (do hang socks in between items to maximize space, don't hang long items in the middle of a walkway).
Does anyone have suggestions on how to tackle this problem? What solutions are available for indoor clothes lines?
Thanks for reading "Rational Living" and providing feedback on this topic. We'll get by with a little help from our friends!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Okay, I am finally starting my journey into the world of blogging. I've been mulling over the idea of this blog for nearly a year, brainstorming topics and debating whether or not to bring it to fruition. But I've had the title pegged from the beginning. So, what exactly is "Rational Living?" Some of you know of my keen interest in WWII homefront rationing and how part of me wants my family to live within those rations for a period of time to see what discipline and self-sacrifice are like. Maybe this blog will someday be about that experience, but for now it's really an amalgam of ideas and doings and changes and discussions. I think the best way to get to the core of this blog is to look at the words themselves.
Ration (noun): a share, especially determined by supply
Ration (verb): to use sparingly
Rational (adjective): having reason or understanding
Living (adjective): having life
Living (noun): means of subsistence
Living (noun): conduct or manner of life
"Rational Living" is about taking only our share and sharing with others. It's about using less so that others have more. "Rational Living" is living within our means and living with meaning, and doing our best to not be driven crazy by the materialistic and consumer-driven expectations of our society. It's about living in a way that mirrors your beliefs which is, in all honesty, really really hard to do. It's not about perfection; I'm not perfect, my family's not perfect and neither are the readers of this blog. It's about real people asking questions and learning from each other and making changes.
Reader participation and feedback are most definitely encouraged.
Some of the common tags you'll see on this blog include sustainable living, gardening, conservation, canning and food preservation, recycling, ethical eating, hunting, petroleum-free, reusing and environmentally-friendly.
Book and movie reviews, recipes and even restaurant recommendations will be included in the content. Let me know if you have a suggestion!
Thanks for reading this and I'd be honored if you followed the blog and became an active commentator on "Rational Living."