But, that wasn't always the case in modern times, and you may be surprised to learn just how much control the government had during WWII!
When WWI began in 1914, the world had never known such a war involving so many nations/ countries, and there was much devastation to our allies in Europe- (specifically). People were starving to death, and it was becoming a dire situation. Before we entered the war in 1917, the U.S. government was already campaigning to citizens to "ration or conserve on groceries" in order to send food overseas to aid France and Great Britain. But, it wasn't until we entered the war in August of 1917, that President Woodrow Wilson formed the "U.S. Food Administration" to virtually manage/ control all elements of the U.S. food supply. At this time, the campaign on the home front was a "volunteer" one- appealing to the citizens patriotism, and compassion for our allies and soldiers, by reducing their purchases of wheat, sugar, and fats, and promoting the use of other grains, fruits, and vegetables for daily consumption. This was also the same time period when citizens were urged to grow "Victory or Liberty Gardens" to aid in the efforts to cut down on the production and consumption of those food items that were being sent overseas. It's also important to note that local food boards in many parts of the U.S. were established to teach citizens how to prepare and can many of the crops they were producing, to replace the foods that they were conserving. The campaign was successful- doubling food shipments to Europe within a year's time, and reducing the consumption of groceries by 15% in America.
However, WWII was a very different story. We were coming off the heels of "The Great Depression" of the 1930's. So many Americans suffered of poor health, and malnutrition due to the effects of poverty levels, poor economy, and poor crop production due to the "Dust Bowl", and extreme weather during that decade. We were barely getting back on track again when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941- thrusting us into another world war. This time around, U.S. citizens were forced by the government to ration their goods- not a "voluntary" campaign this time around!
Many factories that produced every day items, were turned into the production of weapons, military equipment, and other items needed for the war effort. About a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government made the decision to enforce the rationing of certain essential items. The "Emergency Price Control Act" was enacted to grant the "Office of Price Administration" the power to control the quantities, and price limits of certain foods and commodities in order to allow "fairness" of the distribution of those items to ALL U.S. citizens- which would avoid some people "hoarding" those items. By May of 1942, in addition to sugar and coffee, the OPA froze prices on almost all common goods. It was around this time that all U.S. citizens were encouraged to officially "register", and were given a "Ration Book", stamps, and tokens, (based on a point system), to control the quantities of certain goods that civilians could purchase. The main items that were rationed were: sugar, meat, fats, coffee, gasoline, canned vegetables, tires, shoes, silk, and nylon.
Now that rations have been enforced, it was time for the government to bring back their campaign for "Victory Gardens"! It was even more necessary during WWII to encourage citizens to grow their own crops, so that the canned goods could feed the soldiers overseas. As in WWI, they appealed to citizens patriotism, and for those on the home front, it was a way for them to help and contribute to the war effort. It didn't matter if people grew gardens on apartment rooftops, window boxes, baseball fields, suburban yards, schools, churches, etc. The government printed recipe books to distribute to Americans to give them ideas of how to prepare fresh produce, and also had classes for women to learn how to can produce, and cook different dishes. There were also seed companies on hand to distribute seeds, and educate people on what grows best in their climate, soil, etc. Once again, the campaign was a success, and it was estimated that there were about 20,000,000 Victory Gardens grown throughout the country! During the war, more than a million tons of vegetables were grown, and by 1944, these gardens were responsible for 40% of the overall production of produce in the U.S. Unfortunately, once the war ended in 1945 and things began to return to "normal", the gardens declined immensely, and people began purchasing their groceries at the store once again. However, rations were still enforced during most of 1946.
If there are any of you that have a grandparent, friend, or relative that lived during this era and had a story of their experiences, I would love to hear them! My own grandparents were always very much into growing their own food, canning, and recycling, and I've been told that many people lived the rest of their lives that way after having to ration and conserve during the 1930's and WWII. We could learn an awful lot from that generation!