Archive for History & Why Am I Doing This WWII Rationing Project Thing

Shiny & Brite

DSC06162One of my most favorite traditions of Christmas is decorating two trees in my home with vintage Shiny Brite ornaments.  I jam-pack the trees full and the light they give off shines throughout the room and into the darkness outside the windows. I love the story behind the American company and how the war lent to its success.  Shiny Brite AdShiny Brite Factory III
Shiny Brite Factory

In 1937, Max Eckardt established Shiny Brite ornaments, working with the Corning Glass company to mass-produce machine-blown glass Christmas ornaments. Eckardt had been importing hand-blown glass balls from Germany since 1907, but had the foresight to anticipate a disruption in his supply from the upcoming war. Corning adapted their process for making light bulbs to making clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II when Americans turned away from German-made products.

Dating of the ornaments is often facilitated by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop, with the hook attached to the loop, from which the ornament was hung from the tree. DSC06153

The first wartime ornaments were made from glass, but were not silvered on the inside. That made them appear very dull, so very quickly they were decorated with a sprig of tinsel on the inside to make them sparkle. As the war effort intensified, even this practice was abandoned because every piece of metal was needed and frivolous use of metal was not patriotic. The metal caps were replaced with a cardboard tab, from which the owner would use yarn or string to hang the ornament.

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Eventually, the clear glass ball had only small stripes of paint for its decoration. Red was the favorite color during the 1940s, with silver and blue tying for second, and green coming in third.  DSC06159

They were packaged in solid brown cardboard boxes, and later enhanced with a cellophane window and featured the words “American Made”.Shiny Brite Box

Following the war, Shiny Brite introduced a line of ornaments with a newly designed metal hook that provided the user with two lengths of hanger. The long hook traveled through the center of the ornament and exited the bottom, whereit attached to the foot of the ornament. This provided the “short” hanger. Unlatched from the bottom, the entire length of the hook was available, allowing the ornament to dangle at a greater distance from the tree limb to which it was attached. This arrangement was designed to allow the ornament to fill sparse areas of a natural tree.

The increasing popularity of the aluminum artificial Christmas tree, first manufactured in 1958, made this hanger device far less attractive to the consumer, as an artificial tree had no gaps to be filled. The added expense of the lengthy hanging wire coupled with the diminishing need caused this feature to be discontinued in 1960.

During its peak, Shiny Brite had four factories in New Jersey. The company’s main office and showroom were located at 45 East 17th Street in New York City. They stopped selling in the 1960’s, and weren’t made at all by the 1970’s.Shiny Brite Name

Shiny Brite’s most popular ornaments have been reissued under the same trademark by Christopher Radko since 2001, but to me there is no comparison for the original. I don’t always have the details of Christmas stories and memories when I come across a surviving box of Shiny Brites at estate sales, but I like to imagine the trees in the homes where they hung at the time from their cardboard tops.

In a time of war, there was hope and a quiet time to hang ornaments on a tree and reflect on the meaning of the season.

(History Sources: Wikipedia, www.goldenglow.org.)

December 7th…74 Years Later

Remember Pearl Harbor

Another year has passed since Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941. President Franklin Roosevelt was absolutely correct when he said it would become a date that would live in infamy. Most of us have heard the beginning of the famous address to the nation: “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

The speech is not long, less than eight minutes in length, but very few people who I have met in the past year have been able to recall the final two minutes of the speech, which I feel are very powerful words to describe United States history:

“As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”

infamy speech

What FDR phrased as the “unbounding determination of our people” is the essence of The Greatest Generation. The rationing rules and War Bond sales on the home front were considered the duty of all in order to prove the resolve of the country. They were called to serve at home, and serve they did.

In the name of those who died at Pearl Harbor, women went to work in the kitchen, in war production plants, at Red Cross volunteer campaigns, in scrap metal drives, at church gatherings to support Blue Star Mothers and young widows, and on and on.

Man Size Job

Americans’ way of living was drastically affected between 1941 and 1945. The sacrifice of war was carried by all.

Purl Harbor

Sugar bowls were nearly empty. Every scrap of paper used to wrap meat and sandwiches, tin from cans and ounce of grease from frying was recycled for war needs.

Lessons from WWII food rationing remain untaught in my kitchen. The past year of living aware of the rules and being mindful of the differences between 1943 and 2014 is still interesting to me. There remain many more things to write about.

Waste Not.

Stop WasteAn overriding value of the WWII project is about avoiding waste. Whether the value was learned through the years of The Great Depression, or through government facilitation, it has always been clear to me that people alive during WWII were conscious about waste. Their efforts made them selfless in our minds and to them each following generation seems indulgent and living with a growing sense of entitlement.

 

About waste in general, I turned to a valuable timeline found on the Association of Science – Technology Centers site.

 

1927: John M. Hammes, an architect in Racine, Wisconsin invents the InSinkErator® food disposer in his basement. It is patented in 1935, a year when only 52 models sold.

 

Why is that important, you may ask. Well…think about it. 52 garbage disposals installed; do you know of any modern homes without a disposal these days?

 

There was a real problem at the company ten years later, as their salesforce was still trying to figure out how to sell disposers. They just weren’t necessary for the small amount of kitchen waste produced.

 

After WWII though, 18 competitors of InSinkErator arrived on the scene. Times were changing.

 

In the early 1900s, Americans were estimated to waste 80-100 pounds of food per year, per person. Can you believe we are now tossing 20 pounds per person, per month? That’s 100 pounds in 1900, 240 pounds in 2015.

What has made this change? Availability. Convenience.

Convenience came in the form of several inventions:

1914 – Wax Paper

1928 – Cellophane

1929 – Aluminum Foil

1930 – Plastic (polyvinyl chloride) and polystyrene

1937 – Nylon, the world’s first synthetic fiber

Waste Fat

Before such inventions, we were only able to take what we could eat. We weren’t able to store food easily so we better judged what we really needed. I can give an example. Today I reluctantly tossed out a half full clamshell of grape tomatoes to the compost that had gone beyond their safe ripeness. I don’t do this absent-mindedly. I think about what I did that led to such waste. I realized it’s about size and portions (the American way!). The clamshell held about a 1 ½ pounds of grape tomatoes — roughly 60 of them. Realistically, there’s no way we would have eaten that many grape tomatoes. We have learned to buy for size, without thinking if it’s really what we need…value is in the bigger package, right Sam’s Club and Costco?

 

Speaking of packaging, I’m having trouble with the local grocers. They have a real problem with me not allowing them to wrap household items in plastic before putting in my bags with my other items. Never mind the fact that most of what we buy is wrapped in heavy plastic, slid inside a cardboard box. In the case of most household items (shampoo, soap, moisturizer, cleaning supplies), that are put on our bodies or countertops where we serve food, what is the problem if it comes near my food on its way home from the store?

Waste Paper

Anyway…back to waste. In 1947, J. Gordon Lippincott, an Industrial Designer of the time, made a comment on an observation he had made: “Our willingness to part with something before it is completely worn out is a phenomenon noticeable in no other society in history. It is soundly based on our economy of abundance. It must be further nurtured even though it runs contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanity – the law of thrift.”  That said in 1947, long, long before Apple phones are replaced every two years for the newer version with cooler features! Mr. Lippincott was actually referring to inventions such as disposable Bic pens and disposable Gillette razors. This type of waste just didn’t make sense.

 

Sadly, things only became worse as Americans became increasingly focused on consumerism.

 

1953: The American economy’s “ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods”. – Chairman of President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors.

 

“It is our job to make women unhappy with what they have.” – B. Earl Puckett, Allied Stores Corp.

 

1991: “Our economy is such that we cannot “afford” to take care of things: labor is expensive, time is expensive, money is expensive, but materials — the stuff of creation — are so cheap that we cannot afford to take care of them.” – Wendell Berry

 

1993: “We’re reminded a hundred times a day to buy things, but we’re not reminded to take care of them, repair them, reuse them, or give them away.” – Michael Jacobson, Center for the Study of Commercialism

 

By latest claims, Americans throw out 230,000,000 tons of trash (4.6 pounds per day) per person annually. Less than ¼ of that amount is recycled.

 

And back to food waste — it’s too much. 20 pounds per person, each month of food. Roughly 15% – 20% of what we buy we throw out.

 

Think about the additional waste of resources involved. According to author and food waste expert Jonathan Bloom, food waste is not just a moral issue, but also an environmental issue. “A tremendous amount of resources go into growing our food, processing, shipping, cooling and cooking it,” said Bloom. “Our food waste could represent as much as six percent of U.S. energy consumption.”

 

It comes down to winning the modern war against overabundance and consumerism.

 

Stores overstock. If the shelves or produce displays look empty we think there is something wrong with what’s left. No one wants to take the last head of broccoli.

 

Any produce slightly subpar is tossed before it even goes to market. The USDA standards of grading produce puts a farmer at loss. If something is a Grade 2, two-thirds of its market value is lost, even though taste and freshness is identical to a Grade 1. It’s all about aesthetics.

 

91% of consumers have tossed food for the reason it is past its ‘sell date’. There are no USDA health or safety standards on food expiration (except in the case of baby formula). The dates you see on food in a store is determined by manufacturer — someone who would have an interest in you tossing to buy again.

 

So, here we are in 2015…70 years since WWII and the food rules. ‘Living Green’ is popular…reduce, reuse, recycle feels like a hip concept to us. Don’t be fooled. The trend was a way of life, not a trend, until the end of WWII and we’re not even close to mastering it the way our grandparents did. This is one of those lessons we must hold on to.

 

Don’t buy more than you need. Use what you buy. Reuse or recycle what’s left of packaging, if you can’t avoid packaging completely. Or, as they use to say – Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without!

Food Waste

The Six Month Mark of the Project

Today marks the halfway point for the WWII Food Rationing Project year. The starting day was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which was the event that sent the United States into the war and rationing.

So, how’s it going?

IMG_20150607_125024429_HDRIn the first month of the project, I was able to manage the weekly meal prep according to the Meal Planning booklets from 1943/1944.  It would take an entire day to prep the food, which is okay since I like that kind of mindful working. The recipes were good, though notably scaled back from what we were eating prior to the project. One problem though was keeping sandwich bread fresh and soft through the week, especially if I made lunches ahead of time for the week, wrapped in wax paper. By Friday, we felt like we were eating celery/egg sandwiches on toast. Preparing lunches for the day during the morning rush proved too complicated in my routine without losing an hour’s worth of sleep that made me functional for the day. I say it over and over – I don’t know how they did it!

I enjoyed making bread every week. But, I am currently trying to find a recipe for Potato Bread instead of the typical wheat flour recipes I had been using. I’ve been buying instead of making for two months’ time. IMG_20150607_125238013_HDR

I haven’t purchased sugar in over three months’ time. In the beginning of the project I wasworried about supply and running on fumes by the end of the week. That was also at the time I was following the meal planning booklets closely. We’re not eating desserts at the end of each meal. The worst craving was for Oreo cookies and with their invention in 1912, they actually were on the allowed list.

We have a huge (to our standards) “Victory” Garden. It’s a pain to keep up. During WWII people were encouraged to useIMG_20150607_130141634 every inch of lawn space for a Victory Garden. We’re only using about 1/8th of our yard for it and I can’t keep the weeds down.

Plastic containers have left our kitchen for good. It didn’t take long to switch over to glass. I’m still using freezer bags in the freezer since I IMG_20150607_125310473_HDRcouldn’t come up with a better solution. Utensils were a challenge to replace and I have scrounged around antique shops and estate sales to repurchase non-plastic measuring spoons, cups, and such. One recipe booklet told me to use a rubber spatula to scoop something out of a jar. I was elated! I would easily nominate rubber spatulas as the greatest kitchen invention of modern time. Something so simple, right?

IMG_20150607_125521396It is rare for food to be thrown out. My mother is a master of leftovers and it’s taking me practice to get there, but I’ve greatly improved on food waste. The solution is to not buy things special for a recipe that I’ll only use once and don’t buy anything I don’t need, period. There is always a suitable substitute for ingredients, or you can omit (Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do or Do Without).

I haven’t purchased cleaning supplies in six months. Yes, I still clean the house! Vinegar, Borax, baking soda, lemon juice/oil all do the job. For everything. When a t-shirt is beyond its wearable lifespan, it is cut up into four rags. Which can be rewashed.

We are eating a lot of chicken. Chickens weren’t plentiful during WWII, they were needed for eggs, but when we started following the recipes we were eating way too much red meat, even under the monthly rationing standards. I categorize this change as “When You Know Better”. It just didn’t feel healthy to be eating that way.

So, what do we eat?

Eggs. Chicken. Peanut Butter Sandwiches. Salads. Fruits. Vegetables – lots of potatoes. Ham. And, nobody is going hungry.

When I bake and cook I listen to the radio or music from the era. This point IMG_20150607_130519694made me realize I had been forgetting that every single kitchen I spent time in as a kid had a radio centered in the kitchen.

Back in December when people asked me why I was going to start the project I told them it was a study in contentment, resourcefulness, and mindful eating. I have to say, it’s been all of that. In very good ways. The next six months will march on; starting today I will make a commitment to shore up some of the edges that have become frayed as far as the rules go and see what else comes along. To Victory!

Frosted Meatloaf: Why Not?

The American Meat Institute was founded in 1906 in Chicago as the American Meat Packers Association. The organization was created shortly after the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and spent much its early years helping meat packers adjust to new inspection requirements.

During WWII the Institute became instrumental in advertising to consumers to drive interest and demand of meat. With the rationing restrictions and shortages, many homemakers were learning to make do without meat altogether.  Interestingly, in 1944 the American Meat Institute Foundation, was created with the sole purpose of allowing AMI to conduct scientific research designed to help meat and poultry companies improve their plants and their products.

One of the premises of my project was to discover and describe how WWII brought on the emergence of food science. When it came to food, the US Army was most interested in delivering light-weight, non-perishable, and tasty food to soldiers. Eggs, milk, and many other dairy products turned to powder. Chemical preservatives and salt could extend shelf lives of products, allowing transportation overseas.

What came first: corporations noticing the trend and applying it to the home front early in the war (who wouldn’t want to buy a little meal convenience), or corporations developing products and seeing a near end to the war and their new profits? I’m inclined to answer the latter.

Returning soldiers found work and settled off farms. Once homemakers were off the farm, supply of dairy and other food was found in grocery aisles, not gardens.

So, back to Frosted Meatloaf – I almost forgot! Through advertisements disguised as recipe frosted meatloafpamphlets, The American Meat Institute introduced a new, creative, and meat-extending version of meatloaf in 1943. Frosted Meatloaf. It was a regular meatloaf with mashed potatoes “frosting”.

I’ve never been a food mixer. I’d rather use one of those compartmentalized plates at Thanksgiving to keep my cold salads away from the warm sides. I don’t want my stuffing and gravy to touch.

Frosted Meatloaf took me out of my comfort food zone. And I didn’t like leaving my zone. Hubby enjoyed the effort, presentation, and flavor. I, on the other hand, ended up deconstructing the thing when it got to my plate.

Some things just shouldn’t be messed with, no matter how boring the original becomes.

Real Heroes Wear Aprons

A woman by the name of Marjorie Child Husted was the Director of the Home Service Department within General Mills and became the woman behind the name Betty Crocker. You know — the cake mixes. The Betty Crocker we know today is a very watered down (pardon the pun) version of the hero she was to my grandmothers’ generation of homemakers.

Before television sets found their place in American homes, radios informed and entertained. Betty Crocker hosted radio shows and answered millions of letters from women who were charged with providing for their families through healthy and nutritional meals that would build strong bodies, steady nerves and high morale. “The eyes of the nation are upon you,” President Roosevelt told American women in February 1942. “In far-flung outposts, in the military isolation of camps near home, men at sea, men in tanks, men with guns, men in planes, look to you for strength.”

In one of the best books I’ve read, “Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food”, by Susan Marks I learned everything about this remarkable “woman” named Betty.

General Mills’ Husted believed every woman was essentially a homemaker, regardless of whether she held a paying job, because the brunt of the cooking and housework was hers to bear. In 1944 Husted created the Betty Crocker American Home Legion Program. In her radio show, “Betty Crocker” shared these comments:

“Industry has developed a system of recognition for men. And men have the stimulus of competition with others doing the same type of thing they’re doing. But women in their own homes usually are working alone without that sort of stimulus – without the recognition of having salary raises or having the boss tell them they’ve done a good job – and without being cited as an example to others…And during the war years, you women have been doing double. Farm women have been taking the place of one or more hired men to produce the food to win the war. City women have gone into war plants and taken over war activities all along the line to help hold the home front safe and secure until our boys return. And in addition, most of these women are carrying on home duties too, working long hard hours to cover it all.”

The Homemakers’ Creed of the Home Legion:

Homemakers Creed

I Believe homemaking is a noble and challenging career.

I Believe homemaking is an art requiring many different skills.

I Believe homemaking requires the best of my efforts, my abilities and my thinking.

I Believe home reflects the spirit of the homemaker.

I Believe home should be a place of peace, joy and contentment.

I Believe no task is too humble that contributes to the cleanliness, the order, the health, the well being of the household.

I Believe a homemaker must be true to the highest ideals of love, loyalty, service and religion.

I Believe home must be an influence for good in the neighborhood, the community, the country.

This is to certify that ______________ is a member of the Home Legion dedicated to Good Homemaking for a Better World. Signed, Betty Crocker

The Home Legion inspired cult-like devotion, with over 700,000 women joining. Many women sent away for the scroll and proudly framed and hung it on their kitchen wall. I have done the same.

Setting the Stage While Setting the Table

The world changed on December 7, 1941. On a beautiful Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Fleet of the US Navy was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the attack 2,403 Americans lost their lives and 1,178 were wounded. The country was thrown into shock and a huge outcome of the attack was a sense of patriotism that has never since been duplicated.

Beginning in March of 1942, Americans on the home front entered into various rationing provisions set by the United States government. Sugar imports were greatly affected by war activity and the reduction of supply meant that each household was only allowed 1/2 pound (1 Cup) of sugar, per person, per week.

By the end of 1943 meat, canned goods, and coffee were also in rationed supply. Other items were needed in the production of war – rubber (tires and soles of shoes), metal, aluminum, nylon (hosiery, elastic and brushes) – were turned over to the war department to help win the war.

The rationing created a hardship for all people but complaining was not allowed. Europeans had it much worse, and there was always the plight of the solider to consider as well. When it came to “making do” back home, everyone found a way to get by with less.

I’ve spent my day in a reflective tone thinking about the events at Pearl Harbor and about World War II in general. My WWII Food Rationing Project begins today and in my kitchen it is December 7, 1943. Based on a year’s worth of reading about the home front experience, and several interviews with those who remember it from their childhood, the food I prepare over the next year will bring me closer to reconnecting to a time when Americans were living with less, eating more consciously and getting by with a lot of help from their family and neighbors. IMG_20141207_192747378_HDR

To kick off my project I have been cooking and baking directly out of the “Health For Victory Meal Planning Guide of December 1943”. Each day is planned out in the booklet: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Lunch Box. Using the suggestions, I have already asked my husband ten times today — “How did they do this?”.

The draft brought to the surface the problem of malnutrition of Americans caused by The Great Depression. According to the Draft Board, two out of every five men called up were unfit for military service due to disabilities which were linked to poor nutrition. In response, the United States government focused special attention on “correct” nutrition, setting guidelines and educating homemakers to think more carefully and work harder at serving nutritionally balanced meals.

The menu plan I took out of the December 1943 booklet introduced me to many new recipes I would have never found otherwise:

Monday’s Lunch Box: Egg and Celery Filling (for sandwiches) on Rye Bread, Peanut Butter “Pep Up” Filling (for sandwiches) on Enriched White Bread, Cole Slaw, and Applesauce.

Tuesday’s Lunch Box: Bacon-Pickle Filling on Enriched White Bread, Oatmeal Apple Cake.

Wednesday’s Lunch Box: Pimento Filling on Enriched White Bread, Peanut-Prune Filling on Whole Wheat Bread, Cookies, Fluffy Blanc Mange.

Enriched White Bread was an important addition to the American diet. The National Wartime Nutrition Program found it necessary to “enrich” the bread – a staple of the American diet – with important vitamins. “Enriched”…these days we’re not as trusting of what this word means when it comes to our food. My research will continue on this topic as the year progresses.

After a full day of cooking and baking to prepare for the week ahead, this cook is exhausted. While the scope of this experiment will allow me to experience the food of WWII, I have taken in some luxuries that I could only wish my grandmothers had. I am spoiled with a freezer in my home (In 1943 homes relied on a community freezer with lockers storing the household’s frozen items along with everyone else in town. Imagine forgetting the frozen tator tots until 6pm when the building was closed for the day!). I am even more spoiled with a dishwasher and garbage disposal. I have discarded all plastic, processed foods, and the microwave.

I look forward to this experience and I’m glad you stopped by to read along!

“Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do without!”