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November 3: Meatless and Wheatless

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World War I put a heavy burden on the country’s food supplies. Men and horses were taken off the farms and sent to war. German submarines blocked the importation of nitrate fertilizer and food. Decreased agricultural output led to food shortages. It became common to see women and children standing in line to buy food. Lower food supplies led to higher prices and hoarding.

The government stepped in with efforts to control the situation. Herbert Hoover, the first head of the new Food Administration, declared, “Food will win the war!” He appealed to the immigrant population, telling them that they had come to this country seeking freedom and “now you must help to preserve it.” Hoover gave assurances that people did not have to eat less, they just had to learn to eat differently.

With food in short supply, the motto on the homefront was “Waste Nothing.” Posters urged housewives to help win the war in their kitchens, conserving food so our soldiers could be well-fed. To promote the effort, Americans were encouraged to take the “Food Pledge.” They signed a card pledging to carry out the directions and advice of the Food Administration. Signers of the pledge received a card to place in the window, advertising their membership in the food conservation effort and encouraging neighbors to do the same.

Pamphlets contained more than just the pledge card. Recipes suggested substitutes for scarce ingredients. Beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, and sugar were in short supply. Families gave up beef and pork in favor of poultry and fish. Potato flour replaced wheat flour. Vegetable oils replaced animal fats. Clever homemakers created sweets and desserts using molasses, honey, and maple sugar.

On this date in 1917, the Bismarck Tribune proudly announced that 18,312 North Dakota families had signed the Food Pledge. State Food Administrator Doctor E.F. Ladd was pleased with the progress. He reported that on a single day he received over two thousand signed pledges. There was clearly more work to be done. North Dakota’s quota was over one hundred thousand pledges. But Dr. Ladd was confident that North Dakota families would step up and make the necessary sacrifices whether they signed the Food Pledge or not.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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