Thursday, April 23, 2020
During World War II rationing was part of life: gasoline, tires, sugar, coffee, canned and processed foods, meat, cheese, butter, fats, and oils were rationed. As a result, housewives also collected kitchen waste fats.
Shortages of butter and oils began early in the war. Most cooking oils came from countries in the Pacific that were conquered by the Japanese.
Fats were needed in large quantities for industrial and military use and the United States also provided the fats needed by many of the Allies.
By Christmas of 1942 a serious shortage of butter and other fats developed and the Office of Price Administration added butter, fats, and oils to ration list on March 29, 1943. Each person was allowed about 12 pounds of fats per year. Points were assigned to each type of fat and grocery stores posted the required ration points along with prices.
Lard was removed from rationing on March 3, 1944 and shortening and oils on April 19, 1944, but butter and margarine were rationed until November 23, 1945.
Because butter was harder to get than margarine, oleo margarine became popular. It was called simply “oleo” and its natural color was white...it looked like modern day Crisco shortening. Oleo came with a packet of yellow food coloring to mix in to make it look like butter.
In the United States, most glycerin came from the production of soap. When fats and lye are combined, soap and glycerin are formed. Glycerin is a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of explosives such as nitroglycerin. Other military uses included its use in lubricants, protective paint, hydraulics, in the production of cellophane for food wrappers and in dyes for uniforms. In addition, glycerin is used as a solvent, protectant and emollient in some pharmaceuticals. Glycerin use was either limited or removed from products such as beverages, gum, antifreeze, tobacco, cosmetics, lotions, soaps, and shampoo.
So much glycerin was needed that the country turned to housewives to provide more fats. Civilians were reminded among other things that:
* One tablespoonful of kitchen grease fires five bullets
* One pound of kitchen fats makes enough dynamite to blow up a bridge
In June of 1942, a program was begun to collect kitchen fats, but it was not working so starting on December 13, 1943, people received extra ration points and 4 cents for each pound of grease.
The kitchen fats came from fats trimmed from meat, pan juices, skimmings from stews and gravies, even water from boiling sausage...the water was chilled then the fat skimmed off. It was up to housewives to make sure the fats were free of water and juice and strain them through a fine-mesh sieve. They then stored the fats in the refrigerator until a pound had been collected in a tin can. It was then taken to a grocer or butcher who would collect it and return the tin can.
Even in the 1950s there was still stuff called oleo. The white, lard-like stuff had to be turned into something that at least looked edible!
It came with a little capsule that you broke that had yellow liquid in it and you mixed it into the lard-looking stuff so it was yellow.
Actually, this fake butter had been around for years before World War II thanks to the French. Napoleon III, emperor of the country known the world over for its rich, buttery dishes, offered a prize to the inventor of a cheap edible fat that could supply the military and the lower classes.
In 1869 some guy named Hippolyte Mege-Mouries came up with a concoction of animal fats and other ingredients that he called margarine, from the Greek margarites, or "pearl." It was also known as oleomargarine from the Latin oleum, meaning oil.
Most margarine was made from vegetable oils, without any animal fats, which made it easier to spread and cheaper to produce. Margarine was popular in Europe and was brought to the United States in the early 1870s.
As production increased and prices dropped it looked like oleo might just be a replacement for butter. Because of that possibility the American dairy industry lobbied politicians for protection. They also launched a propaganda campaign that ran strong for decades. They were successful.
The reason the fake yellow color was outlawed was because it was designed to fool consumers into believing they were buying and using real butter.
The real reason the dairy industry wanted the coloring ban was because they knew nobody was going to want to smear a white lard-looking product all over their food.
By 1895, 19 states had adopted laws forbidding the sale of yellow margarine and by by 1932, the number was up to 27. Oleo makers struck back with a clever way around the laws. The packaged artificial yellow coloring in capsules or wafers with the oleo.
Even so, it took World War II for sales of oleo to take off. By the time the war ended, people were used to eating the stuff and Federal and state bans, taxes and licenses began to disappear. By 1955, only two states had laws forbidding the sale of yellow margarine. The last coloring ban stood all the way to 1967. The lone holdout was Wisconsin, known as America’s Dairyland.