“What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?,” our current special exhibition in Washington, DC, examines the Government’s effect on what Americans eat. Government influence was especially visible during wartime, when many food products were reserved for feeding the troops and our Allies.
During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, urged the American people to voluntarily conserve food, especially wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. Recognizing that a successful program had to reach out to all Americans, the agency distributed printed materials in several languages, including Italian pamphlets in New York City, Chinese food conservation notices in Hawaii, and Spanish recipes in California.
The featured recipes for “pan de la libertad” (liberty bread), using corn, oat, and barley flour instead of wheat, were found in the files of the California State Food Administration, housed at the National Archives at San Francisco. According to a note at the bottom, recipes were translated into Spanish for counties with significant Spanish-speaking populations.
An all-out publicity campaign was waged to educate the citizenry about the need for food conservation and how to accomplish it in one’s own home. Posters and newspaper notices exhorted readers to combat waste. Homemakers and restaurant operators signed pledges to observe “meatless Mondays” and “wheatless Wednesdays.”
The American Protective League also received and passed on reports of citizens suspected of food hoarding.
In a July 11, 1918, report to the President on the success of the conservation program, Hoover wrote that the United States had been able to ship far more food to Europe than had been expected, and that this feat “could not have been accomplished without effort and sacrifice and it is a matter for further satisfaction that it has been accomplished voluntarily and individually.”
Records of the U.S. Food Administration are in regional archives around the country as well as in Washington, DC. You’ll find photographs, posters, recipes, letters from people denouncing “sugar hoarders,” pledges to follow Food Administration rules, notices of violations those rules, administrative records, and other promotional and educational materials. To see a sample of these records, check out Online Public Access for “U.S. Food Administration.”
This post is adapted from the Winter 2008 “Pieces of History” feature in Prologue magazine.