Food during Wartime, Part 1: Messaging


Today I wanted to take a quick look at how food was viewed in America during World War I. This forms part of the historical context of food consumption (and a closely tied food waste) in the U.S. In a three-part series in my April blogs, I suggested a few low and higher-tech solutions to tackling the food waste issue in our homes, restaurants and farms. I was inspired to write about food from a historical perspective after some summer reading including Fresh: a perishable history by Susanne Freidberg.

I wanted to begin the discussion by looking at Sally Edelstein’s blog entitled “I Pledge Allegiance – Women & Food in WWI.” The blog looks at the imagery and messaging by the US Food Administration, who was responsible for overseeing U.S. and ally food reserves during the Great War. There are several great posters from the National Archives that drive home the message that self-sacrifice for scarce foodstuffs was a patriotic duty.

Since wheat, meat and other foods were in limited supply in war time, these messages helped shaped the nation’s willingness to restrict their food choices at home. I can imagine my great grandmother Eunice joining the cause like so many other housewives and having one wheat-less day each week, one wheat-less meal a day, one meatless day a week and one meatless meal each day. The U.S. government put a good deal of effort into these campaigns and into educating the public how to substitute ingredients in their meal preparation. Next week we’ll take a look at some war-time recipes in more detail.

There was apparently food wasted even in the 1910s as is suggested by the messaging in this poster below. I can’t imagine it being the 133 billion pounds the USDA estimated was wasted in 2014. Nevertheless, can you imagine seeing this poster today calling food waste not just “a crime” but “the greatest crime…”?


A few questions still linger in my mind though on this topic of context and food waste. Would food waste education campaigns today be more effective if they were framed in this context of being “unAmerican”? Would we waste less if we took more seriously “the war on poverty” or if the guilt card was played more regularly by the government like it was during war-time?


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