Food will win the war – Campaign on the WWI home front

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into the Great War later known as World War I. To mark the anniversary, I’m sharing some information I uncovered as I researched my novel Go Away Home.

When the U.S. entered the war, the country marshaled forces for both the battlefield and home front. One home front initiative was the U.S. Food Administration led by Iowa’s own Herbert Hoover.

Years of fighting in Europe devastated people and farms. The U.S. Food Administration set out to provide food for U.S. troops and our Allies, as well as to feed the people of both continents. Rather than use strict rationing as Europe had done, Hoover choose a food policy based on volunteerism spurred by patriotism. He said:

Our Conception of the problem in the United States is that we should assemble the voluntary effort of the people … We propose to mobilize the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in this country.”

Indeed, self-denial and self-sacrifice became rules of the day as Hoover orchestrated a comprehensive campaign under the slogan “Food Will Win the War.” Posters, articles, workshops and educational materials blanketed the country, promoting such approaches as Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays.

The campaign appealed primarily to women since they were responsible for raising food and buying and preparing meals. The campaign offered recipes instructing women on substitutions, e.g. corn syrup or honey for sugar, fish or cheese instead of meat. Instructions encouraged stretching critical resources, e.g. augmenting wheat flour with corn or oat flour.

Waste became a public enemy. Women were counseled to stop waste in connection with such food preparation efforts as peeling potatoes, cutting off bread crusts, throwing out sour milk, meat and chicken bones.

The campaign exhorted men and children to do their part, too, particularly when it came to cleaning their plates.

The effort was a success. Over the course of the campaign, domestic food consumption reduced 15% without rationing. Over a 12-month period from 1918-1919, the United States furnished 18,500,000 tons of food to the Allies.

The campaign continued after the 1918 armistice, sending 20 million tons of food to European allies.

I can’t help but wonder if such a campaign based on personal sacrifice would engage Americans today. What do you think?


“Food will win the war” – Women & WWI

WW1 - Be Patriotic - PosterMy novel set during WWI has had me digging into how the war affected Americans in their everyday lives. A popular women’s magazine of the era, Ladies Home Journal showed that even before the United States entered the war in 1917, Americans were feeling the impact.

Articles in the February 1915 Ladies Home Journal described “fundamental lessons coming out of the war.” Among them:

  • Every American was being taught economy
  • Women were urged to look for products “Made in the United States of America” and to “Buy American”
  • People were urged to “think of the other person”
  • Readers were advised of the need for humility and interdependence
  • The magazine suggested that, “we’ve wrongly fostered a war spirit in children” (by giving children war toys for Christmas)

All of those actions were voluntary. In 1917, after the U.S. entered the war, what had been left to volunteer compliance became the purview of the government. Congress passed the Food and Fuel Control Act, also known as the Lever Act, and President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order creating the U.S. Food Administration.

Herbert Hoover, former head of the Belgian Relief Organization won the job of Food Administration administrator. He accepted no salary, arguing that taking no pay would give him the moral authority to ask the American people to sacrifice in support of the war effort.

With the authority of President Wilson, Hoover became a “food dictator,” regulating the distribution, export, import, purchase, and storage of food. “Food will win the war,” Hoover proclaimed.

WWI - Food Will Win The War - Poster Hoover reached out to American women in August 1917 with a full-page article in Ladies Home Journal titled, “What I would like Women to do.” Here are some of the ways Hoover urged women to conserve:

  • Don’t throw food away
  • Order small meals
  • Have nutritional balance
  • Stop catering to different appetites
  • No second helpings. No 4 o’clock teas. No party refreshments. No eating after the theatre.
  • One meatless day a week, one wheatless meal a day, no young meat, no butter in cookies
  • Sign a statement of support

Food conservation continued to be a focus of the war on the home front. Another article provided women with these helpful tips:

  • Put two Fridays in every week
  • Use butter substitutes – beef & mutton fat, lard, sausage drippings
  • Eat meals from the garden. Preserve produce by pickling and canning
  • Use things you might have thrown away, e.g. make peapod soup, use outside lettuce leaves and scallion tops for salad, use crushed eggshells to clarify clear soup.

WWI - Eat More Corn - PosterWheat was an important export to Europe, so American housewives were urged to try new dishes using “war flours.” A few recipe ideas:

  • Corn meal and raisin gems
  • Bran drops
  • Golden corn tea rolls
  • Graham nut bread for sandwiches
  • Potato biscuits
  • Corn muffin dessert with spiced apples
  • Corn crullers
  • Graham and rye cookies
  • Steamed corn meal apple pudding
  • Corn and rice muffins
  • Pumpkin biscuits
  • Rice waffles
  • Use one cup of oatmeal in place of one cup of wheat flour in a griddlecake recipe.

In reading these lists, I was struck by how many of them my mother did as a matter of routine on the farm in the 1950s & 60s – cooking with bacon grease and lard, using cornmeal, pumpkin, and oatmeal in recipes. Gardening, preserving, using everything. Occasionally we observed meatless Fridays in deference to our Catholic hired men, but we had broader meat options than city dwellers. The squirrels and rabbits Dad shot were tasty.

I don’t know if those practices held over from the wars or if farm living simply lends itself to them. In any case, women answered Hoover’s call and went to their kitchens to help win the war.