Saturday, July 15, 2017

Meatless, Wheatless and Dry

Returning to cartoons from this week in 1917, our theme for Steakback Saturday is the food crisis that accompanied America's entry into World War I.
"The Dollar-American" by Joseph Cassel in New York Evening World, July, 1917
With food production in Europe already crippled by three years of warfare, the U.S. was already exporting a good share of its own food stores. But while there was no prospect of American farms being turned into mine fields and trenches, the draft promised to significantly reduce the agricultural labor force. The U.S., moreover, had to make sure that those American doughboys just now arriving into the theatre of battle three squares to eat every day.

Consequently, speculators drove up food prices, resulting in a call for Congress to pass a Food Control bill. Congress, as far as the nation's editorial cartoonists were concerned, proved slow to act.
"Her Afternoon Siesta" by James H. Donahey in Cleveland Plain Dealer, July, 1917
Nearly all the cartoons I found on this topic used pigs as the metaphor for "Food Speculators." One exception was Ray Evans of the Baltimore American, who devised a vulpine character to represent them in a series of cartoons.
"His Version of It" by Raymond O. Evans in Baltimore American, July, 1917
One of the stumbling blocks slowing congressional action was resistance to a growing Prohibitionist movement, which saw the Food Control bill as an opportunity to require that no agricultural production be wasted on liquor, wine and beer. Prohibitionists also wanted to take advantage of the association of breweries with the now very distrusted German-American community, greatly handicapping the beverage industry's political influence. In the end, the Lever Act (as it came to be known, after the bill's sponsor, Congressman Asbury Lever, D-SC), left beer and wine alone, but banned the production of "distilled spirits" from any produce that was used for food.
"But, Mister, Dis Is Crool" by "Bill" Sykes in Philadelphia Evening Ledger, July, 1917
The Lever Act went into effect on August 10. And on August 1, the Senate passed what would eventually become the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. You have to expect that was part of the deal to get the Lever Act passed, don't you?

Meanwhile, the Wilson Administration created the U.S. Food Administration to launch a propaganda campaign aimed at American housewives, exhorting them to conserve food and limit waste as part of the war effort.
"The Rectangle" by Frank O. King in Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1917
To encourage voluntary rationing, the USFA, headed by Herbert Hoover, coined the slogan “Food Will Win the War” and promoted the idea of having "Meatless Tuesdays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays.” Recipes for wheatless "Victory Bread" anticipated the current fad of gluten-free diets for people who want to pretend that they have celiac disorder. Fortunately for American Catholics, Pope Benedict XV had greater things on his mind than whether Christ was capable of performing the miracle of transubstantiation via Victory Communion Bread.
"The Rectangle" by Frank O. King in  Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1917
During the first year of the USFA’s existence, Americans reduced their food consumption by 15%. That number may not sound like much, but can you imagine anything short of the complete collapse of civilization accomplishing that today?
"The Rectangle" by Frank O. King in Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1917

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