Europe’s long and checkered history of rationing | WSAU News/Talk 550AM 99.9FM


(Reuters) – A pact struck on Tuesday by European Union countries to voluntarily curb gas demand as they prepare for further Russian supply cuts has again raised the prospect of outright rationing and singles across the continent.

Through war, siege and social strife, Europe has a long and often painful history of rationing everything from food to fuel and water, sometimes with unintended consequences.

Here is a brief timeline of some of these episodes.

1793-94 – The food crisis in the chaotic aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789 led the government of Maximilien Robespierre to seek to control grain from the fields to the mouths of consumers under a rationing system backed by the guillotine. His callousness eventually led to Robespierre’s fall from power and his execution.

1914-18 – Many combatant nations of World War I suffered food shortages as a result of the conflict, naval blockades and hoarding. German food checks were notoriously accompanied by unappetizing ersatz foods such as “K-Brot”, a bread substitute made with ingredients ranging from dried potatoes to straw. Malnutrition has become widespread as a result.

1940 – Britain introduced a food rationing system a year after entering World War II, with every man, woman and child being issued coupons for the purchase of basic foodstuffs, including sugar, meat, fats, bacon and cheese. Fruits and vegetables were not rationed and people were encouraged to grow their own. Numerous studies have since underlined the beneficial effect of diet on health. Food rationing did not completely stop until 1954.


1973 – The oil embargo imposed by the exporting Arab States plunges Europe into a deep energy crisis and imposes a series of measures limiting consumption. West Germany, Denmark, Italy and others have banned driving on Sundays; France has lowered speed limits and stopped television broadcasting at 11:00 p.m. to encourage people to go to bed. Britain has been spared petrol rationing thanks to its North Sea oil, but in London’s West End some department stores have resorted to old gas lighting to save electricity. In Sweden, rationing and public campaigns led to longer-term changes, meaning that the use of petroleum products fell by around 16% in 1980.

(Reports from European offices, compiled by Mark John; editing by Gareth Jones)


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