What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?

The Government's Effect on the American Diet

INTRODUCTION



What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? is based on a 2011 exhibition at the National Archives Museum in Washington,  DC. This eclectic assortment of National Archives records have one thing in common: they were produced in the course of government efforts to ensure that Americans enjoy an ample, safe, and nutritious diet. Spanning the Revolutionary War to the late 1900s, these records echo many of our current concerns about government's role in the health and safety of our food supply.

FARM

From local 4-H programs to omnibus farm bills, a wide variety of government activities influence what American farmers grow, how they grow it, and how much they earn selling it.

Farm Family Picnic, undated, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Farm Family Picnic, undated

100 year old harvest, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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The Hundred Year Harvest, 1976

View of Packeting Floor, 1905, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Seed Distribution Building, 1905

Free Seeds For Farmers

The Government’s first official effort to improve American agriculture was through seed distribution. In 1839, Congress appropriated $1,000 to the Patent Office to distribute seeds to farmers through their congressional representatives.

Foreign Plant Exploration

The Department of Agriculture sent plant hunters to the far reaches of the earth in search of food plants. Beginning in the mid 1800s, these adventurers sought specimens with genetic traits to breed plants resistant to disease and able to weather America’s diverse climates.  Agricultural explorers introduced thousands of plants. From mangoes to Meyer lemons, and pomegranates to pistachios, many of the foods now grown in the Unites States sprouted from seeds and shoots gathered on their expeditions. 

Frank N. Meyer, Agricultural Explorer, ca. 1906, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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P. H. Dorsett, 1925, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Frank N. Meyer, Agricultural Explorer, ca. 1906 P. H. Dorsett, 1925

Testing and Teaching





The Hatch Act of 1887 stipulated that states receive Federal land grants to establish agricultural experiment stations—research centers dedicated to finding solutions and improving methods in agriculture and food production. These agricultural experiment stations shared their discoveries with farmers through education programs.

Farm Family Listening, 1930, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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4-H Project, undated, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Pig Cafeteria, undated, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Farm Family Listening, 1930 4-H Project, undated Pig Cafeteria, undated

Crimes Against Butter

Congress responded to the demands of dairy farmers for protection against butter substitutes with the Margarine Act of 1886—raising margarine’s price through taxes and licensing.

Mug Shots, 1915, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Mug Shots, 1915

Leavenworth Inmate, ca. 1886, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Leavenworth Inmate, ca. 1886

Bertillon Measurement Card for John Seymour, 1916, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Bertillon Measurement Card for John Seymour, 1916

Ever-normal Granary, ca. 1933, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Ever-normal Granary, ca. 1933

The First Farm Policy





The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was one of the first pieces of legislation Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced after his election in 1933. For the first time, Congress took on the responsibility of balancing supply and demand so that farmers could make a profit.

Food Will Win the War





With the world at war in the 1940s, farmers were rallied to feed troops, civilians, and overseas allies. They were prodded to grown more corn, soybeans, and sugar beets. These crops were used not only for food but in the production of explosives and munitions. 

Soybeans Poster, 1944, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Get Your Farm in the Fight, 1942, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Soybeans Poster, 1944 Get Your Farm in the Fight, 1942

FACTORY

The growing array of convenience foods like ketchup and canned meats available to Americans during the Industrial Revolution introduced new dangers into the household. 

Candy Factory Inspection, ca. 1908, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Candy Factory Inspection, ca. 1908

Our Mutual Friend, 1885, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Puck Magazine Illustration Showing Candy Additives, 1885

Food Frights

The mid to late 19th century was an age of suspiciously green peas, deadly candy, and perfumed meat. Chemical additives were commonly used to preserve foods or disguise foods already spoiled, but food labels rarely reported more than the name and manufacturer of the product. Without a regulating body, the industry was free to use any substance it chose to color, disguise, or prolong the freshness of products.

Postcard Circulated in South Africa Ridiculing the Chicago Meatpacking Industry, 1907, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Postcard Circulated in South Africa Ridiculing the Chicago Meatpacking Industry, 1907

Food Adulteration Notebook, ca. 1890, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Food Adulteration Notebook Documenting Toxic Candy, ca. 1890

Standard Pekoe and Regulation Oolong







At the time the Tea Inspection Act was passed in 1882, a substantial amount of the tea exported to America was adulterated to increase its weight and to disguise inferiority. Although tea was not the only—or the worst—threat to the health and safety of consumers, it was the easiest to control. Congress already had the power to regulate imports, the source of most of the tea brewed in America.

Tea Tasting, 1931, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Tea Tasting, 1931

Tea Inspection Act, 1882, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Tea Inspection Act, 1882, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Tea Inspection Act, 1882, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Tea Inspection Act, 1882 Tea Inspection Act, 1882 Tea Inspection Act, 1882

The Food Police

President Theodore Roosevelt signed both the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act on June 30, 1906. Afterward, the Federal Government found itself in the business of protecting Americans from unsafe steak, misbranded mushrooms, and tainted tomatoes. Many food labels began to proclaim the purity of their products.

Inspection of Bananas in Baltimore, Maryland, ca. 1906, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Inspection of Bananas in Baltimore, Maryland, ca. 1906

FDA Inspectors Seize Contaminated Eggs, ca. 1908, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Egg Seizure, ca. 1908

Cudahy Sausage Department, 1910, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Cudahy Sausage Department, 1910

Labels Submitted for Patent, 1882–1906, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Labels Submitted for Patent, 1882–1906, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Labels Submitted for Patent, 1882–1906, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Pure Food Brand Corn Label, 1906 Labels Submitted for Patent, 1882–1906 Labels Submitted for Patent, 1882–1906

Janet and the Genie, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Janet and the Genie, 1967

KITCHEN

In his crusade to improve the nutritional quality of meals produced in American kitchens, Uncle Sam has funded groundbreaking research, deployed an army of home economists, and plastered public spaces with pie charts and pyramids.

Home Economist Preparing Turkey for Cooking Method Test, undated, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Home Economist Preparing Turkey for Cooking Method Test, undated

Subject in Calorimeter, undated, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Subject in Respiration Calorimeter, undated

Nutrition: Breaking It Down

Wilbur Olin Atwater was one of the first Americans to undertake scientific human nutrition studies. Using a respiration calorimeter, he quantified the energy values (calories) of different types of food. His discoveries formed the basis of today’s knowledge of nutrition. Home economists translated his findings into the first government food guides.

Food for Young Children Pamphlet, 1917, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Signs of Good Nutrition Poster, 1931, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Food Group Poster, ca. 1945, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Food for Young Children Pamphlet, 1917 Signs of Good Nutrition Poster, 1931 Food Group Poster, ca. 1945

Trading Aprons For Lab Coats

The Cooperative Extension Service of the USDA, established in 1908, helped elevate home economics to a field of study by employing home economists and publishing their research. The movement’s scientific approach to food and application of business principles to the home changed the way Americans eat.

Woman Weighing Broccoli, undated, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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4-H Demonstration, ca. 1950, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Woman Weighing Broccoli, undated 4-H Demonstration, ca. 1950

Eating for Uncle Sam







To “Keep America Strong,” Government ramped up nutrition education efforts during World Wars I and II. Posters suggested protein substitutes for meat and promoted home gardens to supply fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eat Nutritional Food Poster, 1942, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Eat Nutritional Food Poster, 1942

Eat More Fish Poster, ca. 1918, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Cottage Cheese Poster, ca. 1918, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Little Americans Poster, ca. 1918, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Eat More Fish Poster, ca. 1918 Cottage Cheese Poster, ca. 1918 Little Americans Poster, ca. 1918

World War I Garden Poster, ca. 1917, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Home Canning Poster, ca. 1941, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Know Your Onions Poster, ca. 1942, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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World War I Garden Poster, ca. 1917 Home Canning Poster, ca. 1941 Know Your Onions Poster, ca. 1942

TABLE

The most direct way the Government affects what Americans eat is by cooking for them. There are three groups of Americans routinely called to Uncle Sam’s table: soldiers, school children, and Presidents. Many eating habits have been altered as a result.

Passover Seder Dinner, 1919, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Passover Seder Dinner, 1919

Square Meals for Soldiers

The military is one group that is regularly subjected to Uncle Sam’s cooking. Beginning in the 1940s, dieticians standardized military menus—carefully calculating nutritional content and scouring out all but the most familiar and popular dishes. Although World War II soldiers routinely complained about the “chow,” many picked up eating habits in mess halls. Soldiers from a variety of regions and ethnic groups became accustomed to “square meals” served on divided trays. Meat and potatoes washed down with a tall glass of milk came to mean “dinner” to millions of soldiers—an expectation they carried home to their families.

Flying Camp Rations Broadside, 1776, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Flying Camp Rations Broadside, 1776

Wanna Keep Em Healthy? 1944, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Wanna Keep Em Healthy? 1944

Reading, Writing, and Rigatoni

Uncle Sam has touched more taste buds through the school lunch program than any other effort. Three billion school meals were served to 19 million children in 1946 when President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act. Under the USDA, the program’s dual goals of feeding hungry children nutritious food and supporting farmers have sometimes conflicted. Passionate public outcry has met attempts to eliminate or cut program costs. The school lunch program is one of the most popular social welfare programs in our nation’s history.

Lunch Hour at the Raphael Weill Public School, San Francisco, California, 1942, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Every Child Needs a Good School Lunch, 1944, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Lunch Hour at the Raphael Weill Public School, San
Francisco, California, 1942 Every Child Needs a Good School Lunch, 1944

School Lunch, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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School Lunch Serves the Nation, 1966

The Presidential Palate

The contents of the President’s refrigerator have long been a source of fascination for the American people. While most don’t change eating habits each inaugural season, some do adopt Presidential favorites. Countless citizens have written to the White House requesting recipes. The tastes of Presidents have ranged from the simple to the gourmet. They have hired or inherited cooks with experience ranging from world-class chef to army quartermaster. Regardless of the President’s tastes, “what’s cooking” at the White House is a popular and well-documented subject.

President Reagan at a Meeting in the Cabinet Room, 1981, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Reagan at a Meeting in the Cabinet Room, 1981

President Lyndon B. Johnson at a Barbeque for the Latin American Ambassadors, 1967, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Dinner in Honor of the Minister of State for Cultural Affairs of France, 1962, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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72-1028-31_Final, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Lyndon B. Johnson at a Barbeque for the Latin American
Ambassadors, 1967 Dinner in Honor of the Minister of State for Cultural Affairs
of France, 1962 President Eisenhower and Former President Hoover, 1954.

What's Cooking, Uncle Sam? eBook, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Free eBook Download in the iBook Store

Download the free What's Cooking, Uncle Sam? Exhibition Interactive eCatalog for your iPad or iPad Mini from iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/whats-cooking-uncle-sam/id943225898?mt=11



ePUB available for other devices, download from iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/whats-cooking-uncle-sam/id943198364?mt=11

Credits: Story

National Archives Museum—National Archives, Washington, DC

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