Rationing and Recycling in Households
Homemakers, almost all of them women, faced an increasingly difficult challenge: feeding and clothing their families and keeping their homes functioning as the war progressed. Rationing of almost all goods, materials, and foodstuffs was implemented during the Second World War. By 1942, the situation had become quite bleak. Demand for food—notably bacon, cheese, meats, butter, powdered eggs, and milk—for military personnel and civilians overseas increased and at the same time the shortage of available farm workers worsened.
By 1942, weekly rations were placed on sugar, tea, and coffee, and it was not long before the same applied to meat products. Families and individuals were issued coupons stipulating their weekly ration. These had to be turned in when items were purchased. Women were advised to cultivate "victory gardens" and to can some of their harvest to help feed their families throughout the year. The limits on certain foodstuffs led to concerns about nutrition and diet, especially with respect to children. Women's groups provided information and offered classes on how to ensure everyone received nutritious meals.
In 1942, the Honourable C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions and Supply, urged consumers to limit their purchases to absolute necessities, thereby freeing up material—metals, chemicals, machinery, equipment, certain oils and fats, rubber, cork, and some clothing materials—for munitions production. Howe noted the following:
Every dollar saved, every purchase delayed, every ounce of material saved will go to increase the fighting power of those in the forefront of the battle.
Buttons and fabric were needed for uniforms, so the federal government limited the use of buttons and material for clothing production, banning pant cuffs and excessive hems. Women were encouraged to make what they needed and many proved to be very creative, making clothes out of existing items, even old parachutes. Women’s seamed stockings (nylon stockings) were almost impossible to find; some compensated by painting lines up the back of their legs.
The federal government’s National Salvage Campaign encouraged everyone, but notably women, to recycle home materials and objects needed for the war effort. Women formed, managed, and joined salvage committees to collect metals, rags, paper, bones, rubber, glass, fat scraps, and oils. Albertans proudly claimed that they were second to none in contributing to salvage campaigns and donated metal cookware to help build aircraft, fats to produce glycerine for explosives, and bones to make glue for manufacturing and fertilizer for farming. Rationing, saving, and salvaging were trumpeted as patriotic acts and something that every woman and child could and should embrace.
Howe, C.D. “Civilians to Help by Curbing Buying.” The Globe and Mail, 1 August, 1942.
Status of Women Canada. “In Praise of Canadian Women Volunteers: An Historical look at Women and Volunteer Work in Canada.” Women's History Month 2001. (accessed September, 2007).
Whalen, James M. “The Scrap that made a Difference.” Legion Magazine, November/December, 1998. (accessed September, 2007).