A brief world history of rationing

STORY: Rationing in Europe used to look like this.

Today it looks more like this.

European countries are trying to curb demand for gas, as they brace for further cuts in Russian supplies, raising the prospect of outright rationing across the continent.

We’ve been here many times before.

Through war, siege and social strife, the world have pared back the use of everything from food to fuel and water.

Let’s take a look at some of those episodes.


A year after entering World War Two, Britain introduced a food ration system, allocating coupons for things like sugar, bacon and cheese.

People were encouraged to grow their own fruit and veg.

Just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, tires became the first product to be rationed in the U.S.

Gasoline and food rationing began shortly after.

Macaroni and cheese became the recipe of choice for millions because it required very few ration points.


After the Second World War, rationing behind the Communist-run Iron Curtain was widespread.

In Poland, the government rationed sugar, cigarettes, shoes, petrol, meat and other basic food essentials.

It led to hunger demonstrations and the growth of the anti-communist Solidarity movement by the early 1980s.

In 1973, the oil embargo by Arab exporting states plunged Europe into a deep energy crisis.

West Germany, Denmark, Italy and others banned driving on Sundays.

France lowered speed limits and stopped TV broadcasting at 11:00 pm to encourage people to go to bed.


In 2014, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro introduced a "Secure Food Supply" card.

It sets limits on purchases and is intended to stop shoppers stocking up on subsidized groceries and reselling them.

Cuba's rationing system - introduced shortly after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution – made a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic.

Basic items like soap and washing-up liquid became subject to rationing amid widespread shortages.

In other parts of the world, panic buying stripped supermarket shelves bare, forcing some grocers into ad hoc rationing of goods like toilet paper.