Memories of scarcity: victory gardens, rationing, and margarine during WWII

Victory GardenImage courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I was going through some posts at my old blog yesterday and came upon this short excerpt from an interview I did in 2007 for my undergraduate thesis on the history of development and gentrification in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. I don’t think it’s something that ended up in the final version, but I like it so I’m posting it again.

During the Second World War, St. Petersburg saw an influx of tens of thousands of troops due to its location near MacDill Air Force Base, a major U.S. military training center. As a child, Pat lived on St. Pete Beach, where the Don CeSar Hotel (a Jazz-era luxury resort-turned-military hospital that is now again a luxury resort) is located. Here, she discusses her memories of this time.

What do you remember about living in St. Pete during the War?

“I remember the troops living in the Don CeSar at the beach. I remember my friends and the boys I was dating going into the service. We all had victory gardens. We’d grow vegetables, and everybody was encouraged to do it, no matter how much yard you had. We had food stamps, and when we ran out of food stamps, we didn’t have anything to eat.

And oleomargarine. My mother sold me on that. You’d buy it in a block; it looked like a square of lard, pure white, and it came with this little plastic thing of color. You’d let it get soft in a bowl, room temperature, and then you’d mix in the yellow stuff, mustard-colored. You’d stir it up real good, and that would become the right color. You did that when nobody was around. And everybody said [in disgust] “oh!,” but then Mother said, “now you just taste this.”

So, she’d give us a cracker, and we’d spread the oleo on the cracker, and she asked us how we liked it. And we didn’t notice the difference. Everybody did this. My friends and I still talk about it. But we didn’t want to use food stamps because butter took a lot of them.

And then there was the gas rationing, which caused us to leave the beach, because the gas rationing was so severe. We just had one car – two cars was unheard of. Oh, and about the war. We lived on the Gulf of Mexico, and we had to have blackout curtains. We were thinking that the German submarines were in the water, and I think they were. You were heavily fined if you didn’t have black curtains when it was dark out.”

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