Sugar Rationing

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sugar rationing is the national mandatory allotment and distribution of sugar, particularly in wartime. Instituted by the state, sugar rationing, accompanied by institutional price controls, is designed to ensure an equitable distribution to all civilians. As a major commodity in the modern world, sugar has frequently been rationed by governments during times of war and food scarcity.

The term “food rations” originally referred to a day’s worth of foodstuffs allotted to soldiers in the military. Although military rations existed in ancient civilizations, sugar, a rare luxury of the time, was not included. Government rationing of sugar for civilians began in the early twentieth century as modern warfare wreaked havoc on national economies. By then, industrialization had allowed citizens of all classes to consume sizeable amounts of sugar. In World War I, Great Britain and Germany instigated rationing in general, and sugar rationing in particular, to stave off dire food shortages, rampant inflation, and black markets that severely hampered citizens’ ability to procure sufficient supplies. While the United States placed controls on sugar manufacturers and wholesalers during World War I, it did not implement mandatory consumer rationing, opting instead for campaigns urging citizens to voluntarily reduce their sugar intake, an approach that was only minimally effective.