Food as Ammo

WHS-70437

Window displays promoting food conservation were common during the war. This one from 1917, at John J. Blied & Sons near the Capitol Square in Madison, extolled the virtues of planting “victory gardens.” whs image id 70437

Food was deemed a key weapon against the Germans. The dining halls did their best to skip meat on Tuesdays and wheat on Wednesdays to help feed the Allied armies, and the Wisconsin State Journal reported that more than 3,000 students signed a pledge to go without meat and wheat and refuse all candy and ice cream.

Home economics students produced a wartime recipe booklet using alternative ingredients, with recipes including scalloped cheese and steamed barley pudding. More than 2,000 copies sold the first day it was available, with all profits going to the Red Cross.

To increase food supplies, farmers around the state received letters, bulletins, and personal visits from county extension agents encouraging them to increase production. The College of Agriculture (now the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences) published lists of the best and most productive seeds and urged farmers to construct silos, a structure invented by UW scientist Franklin Hiram King. The college’s food-production research led to record production levels and reduced food waste, and helped make Wisconsin a national leader in conservation.

Demand for farm labor grew so great that in late April 1917, the College of Agriculture organized a “war council” and began releasing students to work on farms for credit. By May 1, nearly 450 students had begun working on farms, and most continued into the summer. These students carried their own lunches so as not to be a burden to farm families.

UW President Charles Van Hise declared there should be “no idlers this summer” and urged all students to work for the war during the season. By May 23, 300 were enrolled in officer training, 448 in food production, and 216 in emergency work.

Published in the Spring 2017 issue

Tags: Campus history, Food, history, Student life, Students

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