Monday, June 3, 2013

The Rationing Challenge, Days 1-2

My original plan was to start the Rationing Challenge today. However, on Saturday morning at breakfast I found myself opening a new half-gallon container of orange juice, and I decided that it would make sense start the tally right then and there. That way, we could just count the 6 blue points for that full carton of juice right off the bat, rather than try and estimate how much of it was left on Monday and how many points it should be worth. I did have some partially used containers in the fridge that gave me a little trouble: a 15-ounce can of peaches (18 blue points) and a 16-ounce carton of cottage cheese (5 red points). I was reluctant to count the full allotment of points for these, since I'd already eaten part of them before starting the challenge. However, since they were still more than half full, and since there's no easy way to count points for only part of a container, I decided to go ahead and count them in full. Ditto for the half-pound of cheese (4 red points) that we'd used in Friday's dinner, from which we still had plenty of leftovers.

So, ever since Saturday, I've been keeping track of all items like these, which would come from either the red or blue coupon books, along with their cost in points. Then I deduct these points from my total for the week, so I have a running tally of how many points I've used and how many I have left to spend. As for sugar, which was rationed as a fixed amount per week, Brian just measured out a pound of sugar (a week's supply for two people) into a jar, and we'll be taking all our sugar from that over the course of the week. I could do the same thing with my coffee, but since I read an account in one of my sources that indicated the allotted 1 pound every 5 weeks worked out to about a cup of coffee per day, I think I'll just limit myself to that and keep the math easy. (Technically, I could have two cups, since our household would also be entitled to a coffee ration for Brian, who doesn't drink it. But that would be counter to the spirit of the challenge, especially since consumers were strongly encouraged not to use up their full supply of ration coupons if they didn't actually need the goods.)

A couple of other questions posed themselves as I embarked on the challenge. For instance, what about artificial sweeteners? Lately I've been cutting back on sugar by using half sugar, half artificial sweetener in my morning cocoa and afternoon egg cream. But since artificial sweeteners didn't exist during World War II, is it cheating to cut my sugar use in this way? After some consideration, I decided that it isn't—just as it isn't cheating to drive my car at the speed for which it's designed, rather than impose a speed limit designed for 1940s vehicles. The point of this experiment isn't to reproduce the conditions of World War II; it's to see how well a modern American can adapt to World-War-II-style rationing. Artificial sweeteners do exist in the modern world, so it's fair to use them.

Also, what about store-bought sweets containing sugar, like the nearly-full carton of ice cream in our freezer? Should these be allowed? Wikipedia reports that during the war, "Bakeries, ice cream makers, and other commercial users received rations of about 70% of normal usage." So the rationing of sugar in these products took place on the manufacturer's end, rather than the consumer's. It sounds like consumers were allowed to buy as much ice cream as they liked—if they could get it. This little historical article from the makers of Turkey Hill ice cream notes that ice cream was often in short supply during the war, but "Ice cream shops still managed to satisfy our sweet tooth thanks to some quick thinking and experimenting with different recipes." Based on that, I figure the ice cream in our freezer remains allowable.

So, with these rules in mind, here's my log from the first day of the challenge:

Day 1 (June 1): 
  • Orange juice, 59-ounce carton: 6 blue points
  • Margarine, 1/2 pound (I really only used a teaspoon or so on my morning toast, but at 6 points per pound, I can't "buy" less than half a pound at a time): 3 red points
  • Cheese, 1/2 pound (from last night's pasta): 4 red points
  • Peaches, 15-ounce can (partly used): 18 blue points
  • Cottage cheese, 16-ounce carton: 5 red points
  • Applesauce, 25-ounce jar: 21 blue points
  • Cooking oil, 1 quart (again, we've only used a little of it so far): 6 red points
RED POINTS: 18 used, 14 remaining
BLUE POINTS: 45 used, 51 remaining

At first glance, this looks like a bad start to the week: after only one day, we've already used more than half our red points and nearly half our blue points. But keep in mind that this includes a whole carton of OJ, a quart of oil, and a jar of applesauce, all of which have only just been started. We'll use these up gradually over the course of the week, but the points come off our total immediately. As you can see, the next day's tally looks much better:

Day 2 (June 2)
  • Butter, 1/4 pound (1 stick): 4 red points
RED POINTS: 22 used, 10 remaining
BLUE POINTS: 45 used, 51 remaining

Yeah, butter costs a lot more in red points than margarine, but making parathas with margarine simply doesn't work. We used a few tablespoons making the parathas, leaving us with more than half a stick for the rest of the week. We also used over a cup of our cooking oil supply making the rest of the meal (sadly, there's really no way to make Sook Aloo low-fat, and you'll ruin it if you try), but we still have some left. There's also plenty of the OJ, margarine, and applesauce left, though I did polish off the remaining peaches and cottage cheese. And our sugar jar is still nearly full.

On the whole, I'd that say for two days in, we're not doing too badly. Watch this space for further updates.
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