FOOD: Everybody's Poison

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There had never been such a widespread meat famine before. Last week TIME'S correspondents in 139 cities — the centers of every area in the U.S. — reported on it. In all the U.S. there were only half a dozen cities in which the shortage was not acute. The lucky six: Boise, Idaho; Tallahassee, Fla. ; Douglas, Ariz.; Austin, Corpus Christi and Laredo, Texas.

Few cities or areas were as well off as Salina, Kans., which had meat for about 30% of its people. Waterbury, Conn, and Reading, Pa. had no fresh meat at all. On the heaviest food shopping day of the week, Indianapolis had an average of only two ounces of meat for each of its citizens.

Throughout the nation housewives who did not get to butchers' counters early were in luck if they found bologna or frankfurters. Thousands of housewives could find no butcher shop open in their neighborhoods. The National Association of Retail Meat Dealers estimated that at least 36,000 butchers had closed; many had dismissed their employes indefinitely. In Olympia, Wash., most butchers opened only two days a week — and hoped that a little something to sell would come along. In all Boston there was not enough beef to stock one good-sized meat store. In Maine there was a sharp increase in illegal deer hunting.

In front of a meat shop in Cincinnati appeared a girl in a shepherdess costume, leading a lamb. The butcher put out a proud banner: "Mary had a little lamb, and so have we." The reason for a little lamb and mutton: slaughtering of lambs and sheep was down only 39% from the levels of a year ago ; beef and pork slaughtering was down more than 80%.

Penalties at Home. The distress went deep. Public institutions, many of which had been on short rations to conserve their meat, were now down to the end of supplies. Hospitals, unable to give their patients proper diets (two Boston hospitals began to serve horse meat), pleaded with Washington and local OPA offices for help. They got a promise of it — a new OPA formula by which suppliers are required to furnish the same percentages of meat to hospitals and other institutions as they did in the same period of 1944. If the suppliers failed to meet the quotas, they would be subject to OPA penalties. But what if the suppliers of the suppliers failed to supply them? OPA did not go into that. Across the land, local abattoirs were closing; the major packing houses were down to a trickle of their normal operations (TIME, Sept. 23).

A wave of protests hit Washington. Riding the wave was a formidable figure: John L. Lewis. He posed a formidable dilemma: his coal miners could not work on "cereals and vegetables" and there was "grave unrest" among them. Meat-famished miners had walked out of five collieries in Virginia. Touring a mine area in West Virginia, Interior Secretary Julius ("Cap") Krug agreed with Lewis that miners must have more meat.

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