Wandering in York County

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A 1922 article in The York Dispatch helps locals cut down on food waste.

Shepherd’s Pie disguised leftovers: Using COVID-19 to gain perspective on times of food rationing

Have you been rationing your food? We have. My husband and I no longer routinely go to the grocery store every Saturday morning. Now, we go every three weeks, rationing out the contents of our fridge and pantry to last us at least 21 days.

For example, we eat the time-sensitive produce like salads first, usually pairing it with soup. Then, we’ll eat the more hardy vegetables such as cauliflower or butternut squash with some type of meat from our chest freezer like pork chops. In the third week, we prepare the root vegetables: sweet potatoes or regular potatoes with steak in the crockpot. Finally, the last few days consist of nonperishable items like spaghetti and meatballs.

Throwing out spoiled leftovers or a moldy orange has never broken my heart more.

Teaching food rationing to high schoolers

As much as this pandemic has complicated our lives, I’m excited to see my students again to hear how their perspective has changed.

Educators understand that in order to spark our students’ interest, we have to show them how history connects to their lives. We all remember asking, “When am I ever going to use this again?” While some parts of history are, in fact, nonessential (as much as I hate to admit), a general understanding of our heritage helps us understand where we are and when we are in relation to our local communities, our nation, and the world.

Next fall, I will teach a lesson on the Home Front. During WWI and WWII, Americans activated their civic duty by conserving, preserving, and investing. I use a great resource from the Smithsonian that covers war bonds, victory gardens, and women entering the work force.

Reaching my teenaged students on a level where in which? they can understand what people went through during hardships takes creativity and skill. Considering that my students tend to pick their nails, doodle on their notes, or unnecessarily get up to throw out that scrap of paper, I can tell when I have their attention. It’s that moment when I look out at my child audience, and see all their eyes glued on me, waiting in anticipation to hear what happens next.

How do history teachers engage their students?

Unlike science where in which we can perform experiments, history is in the past. The only palimpsests i wouldn’t use this; it’s a speed bump that we can access are artifacts, photographs, and stories. It’s not easy to explain the importance of victory gardens and rationing when my twenty-first century students live in one of the most abundant times in American history. Heck, I have trouble completely understanding war and depressions, considering I was born in 1990.

Resourcefulness during times of shortages

Revisiting the concept of food waste, I wondered what types of creative recipes people used during times of rationing. During the Great Depression, for example, many turned to mass produced, processed foods such as canned meats, fruit-filled cakes, and corn chips. A digital exhibit from Utah State University gives us some insight into ways Americans proved their resourcefulness:

  • Ketchup or bacon grease sandwiches
  • The juices from canned vegetables served as the base for soup
  • People rubbed margarine wrappers on baking pans to prevent sticking
  • Leftovers were thrown into casseroles such as noodles, beans, potatoes, onions, and other vegetables
  • Canned fruit juices were poured over cakes to make them moister.
  • Chicken feet in broth

I found this recipe for Spanish Corn Puffs in The York Dispatch in 1937. Most of the ingredients (i.e. eggs and milk), were relatively available to most York Countians during that time.

Making Spanish corn puffs during the Great Depression.
1937 recipe for Spanish corn puffs in The York Dispatch

Another article from The York Dispatch recommended to repurpose leftovers in entire new dishes. Scalloped tomatoes, for example, could be used for tomatoes source sauce poured over macaroni. Left over mashed potatoes could top shepherd’s pie. Disguising, the article reveals, is key to a content family.

1932 article in The York Dispatch helps York Countians repurpose their leftovers.

You can read more about the effects of the Great Depression in York HERE.

It wasn’t just Americas who rationed during war. In an article from The York Dispatch, printed on October 24, 1936, I found a report on Nazi Germany. Called an “anti-wastage exposition,” officials urged “housewives,” put in parenthesis bias today but the norm in the 1930s, to use every morsel of food possible. Making sauerkraut out of cabbage and harvesting green beans meant the country did not have to import food, liberating them from depending on others.

The article reports that 1.5 billion marks were wasted each year from food waste. waste in here twice

According to the USDA, Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. I’m guessing that will decrease with our current situation.

1936 article in The York Dispatch reports on Nazi Germany promoting food resourcefulness.

Students make connections

I can’t wait to see how creative my students and their caretakers got with their meals. I, for instance, learned how to make beef stroganoff for the first time since most of the ingredients can be stored in our pantry and freezer.

Even though I am going to relate life during COVID-19 to food rationing during the Great Depression and wartimes, I will make it clear that these two times and experiences are very different. Unlike times of hardship, we can still go to the grocery store almost whenever we want. (I have three gallons of Perrydell ice cream in my freezer as I type this – that is not true hardship). We may be inconvenienced, but we still have plenty of food. However, COVID-19 will at least pry open the cracks in their mental sky, exposing them to minute glimpses into a deeper understanding of our past.


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