February 1, 2018

Hooverizing to Victory OR Food: A Weapon of War

by April Sparks, Government Records Archivist

By 1917 after three years of war, Europe faced severe food shortages with some populations on verge of starvation. Throughout the continent, farms had either been left vacant or become battlefields as farm workers either joined armies or fled from them. In addition, the war caused disruptions in the transportation and distribution of imported food. The United States government, on entering the war, saw an opportunity to use their status as the largest producer of food as a weapon. To manage the United States’ food supply, its conservation, and distribution, President Woodrow Wilson created the United States Food Administration and named Herbert Hoover its head.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters

As administrator, Hoover chose not to implement any mandatory food conservation measures, instead he relied on the volunteerism of the American people. Hoover believed that the American people would gladly join in the effort to conserve food on the home front so that the American soldiers and their allies overseas would have enough food to win the war. Conservation efforts focused on wheat, meat, fat, and sugar, as all were considered vital for the success of the Allied forces. The program developed a pledge card to muster support and pledge drives were held across the country in the fall of 1917.

The food conservation effort was quickly nicknamed “Hooverizing”, and women led the charge. Newspapers often had weekly menus filled with recipes that followed the guidelines. Local women’s organizations and church groups produced cookbooks centered around the patriotic act of food conservation. Many of the recipes included leftover meats, foods not normally consumed prior to the war, and reduced, omitted, or substituted wheat, sugar, and fats. Not many of these cookbooks have survived through the years, but the MHS Research Center has three cookbooks from this era in its collection.

“War-Winning” Recipes, Young Ladies Sodality St. Francis Xavier’s Church, 1918
MHS Research Center Collection: CKB 641.5 ST109W 1918

The Red Cross Cook Book from the Hot Springs Red Cross Society, one of the three cookbooks held by MHS, has a dedication, which reads in part:

Save the waste, control the taste;
Eat corn bread and ryye,
Meatless days, wheatless days,
Eat less cream and pie.
For our Allies’ sake, cut out the cake,
Save food, and win – or die;
Keep fighters fit, this is our bit,
And that is the reason why –
the ladies of Hot Springs Montana, Red Cross have gathered these recipes and had them bound, so that we can all do our bit toward doing our best; we can help win this war by eating. For we must eat to win, but so must Our Boys and Our Allies.” 

The Daily Missoulian, July 15, 1917 page 3.

Emphasis was put on home food production to leave most commercial crops available for the war effort. Children were encouraged to pitch in by planting and tending to vegetable gardens. These gardens provided food for the child’s family, but also perhaps for a neighbor as well. Women were urged to think beyond fresh food and utilize both canning and drying to extend the use of their garden products. Food really was one of the ultimate weapons in the fight to win World War I, which is perhaps why this focus on food would be seen again during World War II in food conservation pledges and the planting of victory gardens.

For more, join us on Facebook every Sunday in 2018 where we will be exploring different aspects of WWI Hooverizing.