WWI and Vegetarian Patriotism

Apologies for the lack of activity, alas, such is the nature of finishing a dissertation while also working on two simultaneous articles for publication and job applications. All goodness to be sure, and I promise a more consistent posts forthcoming. For today, I wanted to focus on patriotic, vegetarian recipes. In October 1917, the recently formed United States Food Administration under the direction of Herbert Hoover began encouraging American citizens to take part in its voluntary “Meatless Tuesdays” program, as well as pledge to have one meatless meal a day in order to save meat to ship to allied troops abroad. The idea was a means to prove the administration’s overriding slogan that “Food Will Win the War.” The campaign was aimed primarily at notions of housewives' dedication to the country, exploiting the growing home economics movement by connecting it with a notion of civil duty.

President Wilson’s resolution explaining the meatless program was bathed in the language of patriotism, duty and honor. Meatless and wheatless days were necessary because of reduced productivity and agricultural harvest in Europe, as well as the interruption of long distance trade routes. Wilson described dietary restriction as being “one of the most pressing obligations of the war,” and necessary because it served “the national interest." The President called on “every loyal American” to follow the guidelines of the Food Administration, and emphasized the role of women in ensuring that households follow the new rules.

The cookbook Wheatless and Meatless Days made the connection between vegetarian victuals and American nationalism explicit through nomenclature, giving meat substitutes patriotic sounding titles. The authors—home economics teachers from a San Diego high school—explained that conservation of food was part of the “battle array” in empowering housewives to help win the war. The “practical self-denial” of meatless days helped ensure success both at home and on the battlefield, “strengthening the arms and hearts” of all Americans. Most importantly, substituting for meat was a sacrifice possible to all who “follows the flag” with sincerity in their hearts.

A section of the book explicitly labeled foods as “meat substitutes,” in the same way as previous years’ vegetarian cooking guides. Recipes for common meat substitutes were provided, including a peanut loaf, as well as a bean and nut loaf. Unusual meat substitutes, including a mock crabmeat made of stale bread, mustard, flour and eggs expanded home cooks’ meatless repertoires. However, many of the recipes went further in their appropriation of vegetarian foods for the war effort. Recipes were given explicitly patriotic names, implying that the act of cooking and consuming were rife with political meaning. Combining walnuts, rice, breadcrumbs, cheese and Worcestershire sauce one could bake a “Liberty Loaf,” a meatless meal associated with democratic freedom. The McAdoo sauce mentioned was made of water, spices and pimientos.

Baked beans cooked with breadcrumbs, eggs, ketchup, onion and a mustard sauce produced a “Navy Loaf” with a “Gunner Sauce” that could make any midshipmen proud. Utilizing such names made the point explicit; food had political, social and cultural meaning, a point that American vegetarians had been expressing for nearly one hundred years.
However, it was a far departure for vegetarians who in generations earlier proposed their diet specifically as a means to avoid war. A new vegetarianism (or at least components of its cuisine), attached with an ethos of self-improvement was seen as a patriotic act of self-sacrifice. Quite the interesting social shift.

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