Thursday, 3 March 2016




Welcome to Thursday! The last two Throwback Thursday articles I’ve written have discussed historic sustainable living solutions and World War II. This week, I am combining these themes to talk about some sustainable practices that were employed during World War II to save resources.

When we talk about sustainability or recycling today, for most of us it is a choice. During the poverty of the 1930s and into wartime in the 1940s, this was not a choice. You were either too poor to be able to afford new things or new things were not even available to buy because of rationing and limited manufacturing of civilian goods.

Some flour sacks. Source
For example, many women in the '30s and '40s had to find alternatives to buying commercial fabric. Many women turned to feed or flour sacks to make clothes for their children. When flour companies realised this, they began putting their feed or flour in beautifully patterned sacks, with labels printed in ink that could be easily washed out. This meant that the sacks were very effectively re-used and re-purposed.
Flour sack fabric swatches. Source.

During World War II, the government was heavily invested in encouraging Canadians to “Make do and mend” and to re-use and recycle things like fabric (needed for soldiers’ uniforms), fat (needed for bullets), and metal (for vehicles, weapons, etc.).

While many people have heard about wartime rationing in England, many don’t realise that Canada also rationed certain goods during World War II. Canada’s rationing was much less strict than in the UK or other occupied countries in Europe since many things were produced or grown here. The major problem that faced British food sources were the disruptions to Atlantic trade cause by German U-boats.

During the latter years of WWII each Canadian was entitled to the following rations:
  • Tea and/or Coffee: 1.5 ounces of tea or 5.5 ounces of coffee per week. 
  • Sugar: Half a pound per week.  
  • Butter: Half a pound per week. 
  • Meat: Up to 2.5 pounds per week depending on the type of meat.
  • Canned salmon: ¼ pound per week. 
So-called ‘victory gardens’ were a very popular way of supplementing rationing, in both Canada and Europe. In Canada, it is estimated that upwards of 209,200 victory gardens were in operation at the peak in 1944. They produced a total of 57,000 tons of vegetables. Fruits and vegetables were also canned for the winter, a practice that was also highly encouraged by the government. You could even apply for a special canning “licence” that would entitle you to extra sugar rations.

To help women determine what to do with all their fruits and veggies, as well as the reduced portions of goods, over 200 “wartime cooking” cook books were published during the war, on top of countless pamphlets produced by the government and private companies.

A classic wartime cake (you may notice that it's also vegan!). Source
Many exhibits and a lot of research have been done on the battles or military strategies of WWII. Increasingly, however, museums and historians are beginning to pay more attention to the 'home front' and what life was like at home during the war. On at the War Museum right now is an exhibit about women during the world wars. The Imperial War Museum in London, England also features many exhibits and podcasts on this topic. I think one of the reasons that this topic resonates with people is that many lived through WWII. Or even if they didn't, their mothers continued to save fat or mend socks when new ones could be bought. The mentality of war thriftiness stayed with many people, and trickled down through the generations to today.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to keep an eye out for Leah’s next Historic Kitchen instalment, which will feature 20th century recipes!



  1. Those fabrics are amazing! Such a clever (and kind) idea of the flour companies to have wash-out labels to facilitate the sacks' reuse.

    1. I know right! I would love a dress made out of the dark blue one.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out Kate! You brought in some great info about food economics during the war. I'll be touching upon this briefly when I recreate a wartime spice cake! (Which was actually *divine*). It doesn't have quite as many rations as your example above, but it does use some creative (and surprising) ingredients :) I'm so glad you highlighted one of the ways that culinary practices underwent such radical change during this period! Thanks for the great post!

    1. I am so looking forward to your article!! I have a feeling the recipe I included above is British, since many Canadians would still have had access to eggs, butter, and milk while in Britain they would've had only very reduced quantities.