Chew the Fat

10 Jun

After my disgusting little experiment in baking with bacon grease, I thought I’d do a little background research on fat availability during the time period. Butter was rationed starting on March 29, 1943 as was shortening and other fats (but that’s another post). So, baking and the usual food habits had to be modified. Some turned to bacon fat, if they could get it, for their cooking needs.

Americans were also asked to save any fat that they could no longer use for cooking and turn it in to help with the war effort. For 1943, the collection goal was 200 million pounds of waste fat. By 1944, to increase participation, each pound of fat turned in was worth 2 meat ration points–a very popular transaction, indeed. People could take their container of fat to their market or butcher for redemption. The collected fats were used for soap and glycerine manufacture. Glycerine, of course, could  be made into dynamite and gunpowder (nitroglycerine). Pre-war, sufficient US supply of glycerin had come from soap manufacture but the increased need coupled with the decreased supply of palm/vegetable oil from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Philippines–suppliers blocked by the war in the Pacific–caused the government to issue the call for saving fat.

Save Every Drop of Oil or Fat Poster

1942 US Bureau of Home Economics Poster via Northwestern University Library

According to one of the “Munitions for Kitchens” informational cartoons about the issue, once pound of fat could be used to make “enough glycerine to send a shell screaming toward an invasion objective,”  “enough dynamite to blow up a bridge,” “three cellophane bags,” or “10 rounds from a 50-calibre airplane cannon.”

Save Waste Fats Poster

Henry Koerner 1943 Office of War Information Poster via the National Archives (NARA)

I can imagine complying with this salvage drive–especially if I had a refrigerator at the time. Keeping a pound of fat in the house without refrigeration and without air conditioning in the summer would make it go rancid way too fast. And, rancid fat wasn’t wanted.

Today, the interest in biodiesel has some people collecting waste fat from fast food eateries, for example. And I learned (okay, my naiveté is showing again…where have I been?) that Sacramento has its very own plant, Sacramento Rendering Company, in business since 1913 (formerly Sacramento Reduction and Tallow Works). I bet they were involved with waste fat pick-up during World War II. Will have to find out about that. Their business still provides material for manufacturing of soap, paints, cosmetics, lubricants, candles, animal feed, and biofuel. Truly, I’ve never thought much about rendering or grease collection before this post (who does?) but it’s definitely a great recycling opportunity and a “green” business, in today’s parlance. Plus keeping the grease out of the sewer system can only be a good thing.


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