From August 1914 onwards, the people of Brussels suffered extreme shortages, particularly of food.
As the entire economy was paralysed by the national and international situation, by German requisitions and the ban on travel, basic food stuffs were the first to be in short supply: milk, butter, bread, potatoes, sugar and coffee were rationed by stringent rules based on the number of mouths to feed per household. A shadow economy quickly developed with black market trading, information networks, undercover transport and resourcefulness. In response to the new situation, some of the city's residents set up as market gardeners in their town gardens, in public parks and along the boulevards.
A huge international operation, the Commission for Belgian Relief, attempted to address the crisis by transporting urgently needed products from Spain, the USA and the Netherlands. Under diplomatic protection, the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation (National emergency and food committee), created in September 1914 and presided over by Ernest Solvay, assumed the task of distributing the goods fairly, with the support of financial donors and the help of many volunteers.