Saving, Sharing, and Propaganda: Advice for Children from the U. S. Food Administration

Just this week, I finished working my way through a new collection of materials we received relating to military and wartime food and cookery. The majority of the collection is published items that will be cataloged, but it also included a selection of ephemera in the form of menus, corporate sponsored pamphlets, two handwritten recipes, two ration books, and a rather interesting photograph album of the Yokota Air Base Commissary from the 1960s. On the whole, materials in the collection date from the 1880s (Civil War reunion event menus) to the 1960s. The published items date from the 1890s to the 1990s. The manuscript materials are primarily World War II-era, but I’ve been thinking about World War I lately. There have been a number of projects and efforts on campus to document VPI involvement in WWI (and some more to come), which led me to WWI food and cookery. Either later this fall or sometime next year, I’m already concocting ideas for a small WWI-food themed exhibit in our display cases.

In the meantime: Food Saving and Sharing: Telling How the Older Children of America May Help Save from Famine Their Comrades in Allied Lands Across the Sea,  prepared under the direction of the United States Food Administration in coöperation with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Education, published in 1918.

This book was basically the result of a call for the United States Food Administration (USFA, so I don’t have to type that every time!) to create book for public school use “which will promote the program of food conservation.” Food Saving and Sharing is sometimes referred to as a text book and it certainly has the education element to it. In addition, it includes, photographs, illustrations, and a fair number of little rhymes and sayings to reinforce its ideas.

Shortly after the title page, there’s a brief introduction from Herbert Hoover:

To the Girls and Boys of America:

Now that the terrible war is over, you must be glad that you helped to win it by saving food for our soldiers and our unhappy friends across the sea. But our work of feeding hungry people is not to be greater than it has ever been…To save the world from famine will be a greater task than any of us can imagine, but we can do it if each of us does all he can. I am counting on you…

Later, in World War II, we will see the theme and motto of “Victory!” It was used as a motivation for home gardens, increased self-sufficiency, rationing, and a variety of other food and domestic practices. While World War I didn’t have so clean or simple a motto, this book is a great example of the kind of propaganda (a word that shouldn’t necessarily have a negative context here) that was common during this time, especially from government agencies like the USFA. About two-thirds of the book is spent educating readers on food and nutrition. The last third is about efforts during the war, why they need to continue, and what else young people can do to help. There are a couple of pages on the Garden City movement and the School Garden Army (both of which I’ve come across recently and need to read up on!), organizations designed to promote involvement by school-age children in war efforts and to give them a way to affect change.

Cornell’s Albert R. Mann Library has a nice short overview of the Food Administration that includes the following:

“Food Will Win the War” became the slogan and the Food Administration’s widely disseminated posters, articles, workshops and educational material resulted in a 15% reduction in domestic food consumption without rationing. This meant that in a 12-month period of 1918-1919, this country furnished 18,500,000 tons of food to the Allies.

I can certainly see the appeal of such a book at the end of 1918 and we know that the U.S. did continue its efforts well into 1919 to great success. Efforts like those of the USFA would also be extremely influential in another twenty years when World War II began.

The full version of this book is available online.

I know I didn’t actually talk about or feature the new Military & Wartime Cookery Collection (Ms2017-029), but we will come back to it. For now, you can see the finding aid online (the guide includes a list of the related publications).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s