So you’ve started a vegetarian, gluten-free diet, but did you remember to complete your pledge card to send to the U.S. Food Administration? This is — of course — no longer a reality, but 100 years ago it was, when Herbert Hoover suggested changes to the American diet to support the war effort.
When Hoover became the “food czar” in April 1917 upon America’s entry into World War I, the U.S. Food Administration had been created to encourage patriotic conservation of certain ingredients for the war effort. Since his recent stint as chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Hoover understood the logistics behind a large-scale food operation. In order to supply hearty non-perishables — beef, wheat, and sugar — to American soldiers and Allies overseas, Hoover’s USFA asked for cooperative sacrifice from civilians.
“Meatless Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were part of the USFA’s Hooverization of America’s kitchens. By 1918, the administration claimed more than 10 million homes had submitted pledges to use potato flour, molasses, and chicken instead of wheat flour, sugar, or beef in their tried-and-true recipes.
Hoover’s culinary campaign also recommended its own recipes, cataloged by the National Archives. Pamphlets from the USFA urged homemakers that a pledge to their recommendations would not amount to skimpy cooking: “The word ‘save’ has been overemphasized in the public mind and the word ‘substitute’ overlooked.” A Hoover-compliant dinner in 1918 might include a shark steak, potato bread, and greens from a family victory garden. For dessert, the tempting Lintz Tart called for rye flour, lemon zest, and cinnamon with an almond paste filling.
Sharks, Snakes, and Snowballs
“Food Will Win the War” may have made for an apt title of a Herbert Hoover food blog featuring delicacies like the Financial Tart, Alcazar Cake, and Special Napoleon. One warning from the USFA was sure to challenge the allegiance of the most loyal war-foodies: “The ladies will probably protest and say that they will never, never eat snakes. But it is quite probable that snake meat will be considered a delicacy if the war long continues.” Luckily, the war ended before a Copperhead Quiche could be recommended.