Food for Fighting

Library of Virginia

Food Conservation During World War I

Save ... and serve the cause of freedom fgc., Cooper, Frederic G., 1883-, 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia
SAVE AND SERVE THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM
Food shortages in Europe caused desperation among the Allied nations. Prior to the U.S. entry into the war, the U.S. became the largest provider of food relief aid. President Woodrow Wilson created and appointed Herbert Hoover head of the U.S. Food Administration on August 10, 1917, four months after the United States entered the war. Hoover believed that food was "second only to military action" during the war. 
Remember Belgium buy bonds, Fourth Liberty Loan / Ellsworth Young., Young, Ellsworth., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Before the U.S. entered WWI, Hoover played an integral role in the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Occupied by Germany and under British blockade, a solution was needed to feed the Belgian people. Hoover negotiated with Britain and Germany to allow food relief.

Don't Waste Food While Others Starve, L.C. Clinker, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia

Appeals to the compassion and generosity of the American people were evident in posters like this which showed starving women and children.

Don't Waste Food While Others Starve, L.C. Clinker, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia

This video looks at the legacy of Hoover's Commission for Relief in Belgium.

Save ... and serve the cause of freedom fgc., Cooper, Frederic G., 1883-, 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Rather than imposing forced rationing during WWI, the U.S. Food Administration used poster art as propaganda to encourage food conservation, substitution, and augmentation. These efforts provided the U.S. troops and Allies with the necessary sustenance for combat. Voluntary food rationing became a sign a patriotism and changed the eating habits of the American people.

America's food pledge, 20 million tons we have promised to feed the hungry millions of Europe --, Treidler, Adolph, 1886-, 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Twenty million Americans signed food pledges to the U.S. Food Administration.

The President Says, Adolph Treidler, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia
Eat more corn, oats and rye products --fish and poultry --fruits, vegetables and potatoes, baked, bo, Britton, L. N., 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Americans were encouraged to eat less meat, eggs, wheat, and sugar. Wheat was easier to ship, which is why Americans were asked to eat other grains and starches. Food shipments to Europe doubled within a year.

Keep it coming "we must not only feed our soldiers at the front but the millions of women & chil, Illian, George John, 1894-1932., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia
Keep it coming "we must not only feed our soldiers at the front but the millions of women & chil, Illian, George John, 1894-1932., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia

This video provides a look at WWI field rations, and even shows a taste test!

The Salvation Army Help Them To Help Our Boys, Scott Ethridge, 1918, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia

What was the food actually like at the front? This video from The Great War gives some answers.

For Your Boy, Arthur William Brown, 1918, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia

Charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army and Y.M.C.A. provided a taste of home to those fighting in the trenches.

Eat Cane Syrup & Molasses, Luria-Fowler, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia
SUGAR MEANS SHIPS
American consumed an estimated 85 pounds of sugar per person in 1916. This was more than double the British, who consumed an estimated 40 pounds per person. During the war, Americans were encouraged to substitute fruit, honey, and molasses in place in sugar. Reducing the consumption of sugar was important to free ships for the transport of troops and supplies.
Eat Cane Syrup & Molasses, Luria-Fowler, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia

Candy was an essential part of the soldiers rations as it provided quick energy on the front.

Candy Conservation, n/a, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia

Many chocolate manufacturers switched to coconut candy as it required less sugar to sweeten.

Sugar Means Ships, Earnest Fuhr, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia
Oh, boy! that's the girl! the Salvation Army lassie, keep her on the job : Nov. 11th-18th, 1918, Richards, George M. (George Mather), b. 1880, 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Supplies like wheat, sugar, and oil were used to make doughnuts by the Salvation Army. Doughboys and Lassies became symbols of the war.

The Salvation Army Gives Doughnuts, William Meade Prince, 1918, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia
Food is ammunition don't waste it / J.E. Sheridan., Sheridan, J. E., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia
WAR GARDENS VICTORIOUS
With food supplies needed overseas, Americans were encouraged to grow their own vegetables and keep chickens and pigs for eggs and meat. President Wilson even allowed sheep to graze on the White House lawn. Self-reliance was touted as an American virtue and the first self-service supermarket, Piggly Wiggly, was opened in 1916 as a response to the short-supply of able-bodied men available to work in the traditional grocery stores. In addition to food savings pledges, growing "Victory Gardens" was a personal badge of pride. Meatless Mondays, eating local, eating more fruits and vegetables are all ways WWI changed the way Americans eat.
Sow the seeds of victory! plant & raise your own vegetables / James Montgomery Flagg., Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Local grocers used to employ many men to fetch, ring up, and deliver groceries. With the advent of the supermarket, customers took on these tasks and enjoyed lower prices as a result.

War gardens victorious Maginel Wright Enright., Barney, Maginel Wright, 1877-, 1919, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Americans were told their gardening efforts to feed themselves allowed commercially grown produce to feed the troops and, in essence, help win the war.

Little Americans do your bit eat oatmeal, cornmeal mush, hominy, other corn cereals, and rice with m, Parker, Cushman, 1881-, 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia

People of all ages were encouraged not to waste food. The "clean plate club" was a reminder not to take more than you needed.

Food ... don't waste it fgc., Cooper, Frederic G., 1883-, 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia
Food control is a war measure, 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Americans adopted Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays to reduce their consumption of these vital products.

Food is ammunition don't waste it / J.E. Sheridan., Sheridan, J. E., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia

Colorful and catchy U.S. Food Administration posters reinforced the idea that food itself was the only way we would have the strength to win the war.

Don't Stop Saving Food, n/a, 1917, Original Source: World War I Poster Collection, Library of Virginia
Our flags beat Germany : support every flag that opposes Prussianism : eat less of the food fighters, Treidler, Adolph, 1886-, 1917, Original Source: Library of Virginia
Food is ammunition don't waste it / J.E. Sheridan., Sheridan, J. E., 1918, Original Source: Library of Virginia
FOOD WILL WIN THE WAR
Herbert Hoover's contributions to the Belgian food relief and the U.S. Food Administration earned him the name of "The Great Humanitarian." The food discipline exercised by the American public during World War I would prove essential during the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II. We see the legacy of the food conservation efforts today through the field of nutritional science, the food pyramid, and campaigns to "eat local." Food allowed every American to take part in the war effort in some way.
Credits: Story

Research, text, and arrangement by Dana Puga, Prints and Photographs Collection Specialist, Manuscripts & Special Collections Department. Editing and assistance from Sonya Coleman, Digital Collections Specialist.

Imaging by Ben Steck, Photo & Digital Imaging Services Department.

Images from the Visual Studies Collection, Manuscripts & Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
Google apps