'Food Will Win the War' message extends from world wars to today

Food and farmers were known to be an important part of the efforts on the homefront in World War I World War II. The wars have receded into history, but the idea that farmers have the responsibility to feed the world continues.

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A World War I poster declares the importance of food to the war effort. Library of Congress

“Food Will Win the War.’’

The slogan took root when the United States entered World War I on Great Britain’s and France’s side. The Yanks entered the war late, long after its 1914 start. President Woodrow Wilson, who campaigned to keep the country out of the conflict, changed course in 1917.

The war brought Europe to the brink of starvation and led America to become the breadbasket of the world. The federal government began a public relations campaign to encourage citizens to sacrifice.

“Meatless Tuesdays’’ and “Wheatless Wednesdays’’ were more than slogans as consumers were encouraged to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and less meat, wheat, fats and sugar. Local food experts provided canning demonstrations and tips on how to grow “Victory Gardens’’ for the war effort.

“Apple Brown Betty’’ was among the most popular recipes from the time. Designed to serve 10 people, the ingredients included five medium sliced apples, 1.25 cups of breadcrumbs, 4 tablespoons melted butter or cooking fat, .25 cups of hot water, 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice, 5 tablespoons of dark corn syrup, a pinch of salt and one-half teaspoon of cinnamon.


Farmers were offered production tips to increase food output as agriculture began the transition from workhorse and oxen teams to more mechanization. After the war, farm production continued to increase. Surpluses sent commodity prices plummeting, which created a financial depression a decade before the Great Depression hit in 1929.

The home front faced a bigger challenge in World War II.

The Office of Price Administration established price controls and issued food coupons when the war started and increased its efforts by 1943. The ration book issued monthly to families included meat, cheese, and fats were added to the rationing of tires and gasoline. Each ration book allocated 48 blue points for canned, bottle preserved or dried food, and 64 red points for meat, fish, and dairy.

The Office of Production Management had a direct impact on farmers. Ag equipment manufacturing was set at 80% of what was produced in 1940. The factories were also asked to contribute weapons and parts for the war.

John Deere built transmissions for tanks, various parts, and ammunition; Allis-Chalmers made turbines and propeller shafts for ships; Case wings for B-26 bombers and artillery shells; and Massey-Harris built tanks.

Farmers had to convince local boards that they could increase crop production with new equipment more than neighbors could. In effect, neighbors competed against each other for available new equipment.

Those who were rejected for farm equipment could turn to the black market, where implements were readily available. After the war, Congress passed legislation giving farmer-veterans first opportunity to purchase still-scarce tractors and implements.

Food rationing in a more limited form continued until the early 1950s. Meat was eliminated from rationing in 1954.


Farms, and the willingness of the nation to sacrifice for the greater good, helped win both world wars. General rationing was not part of the Korean Conflict managed operated under the auspices of the United Nations, or the Vietnam War, which was expanded under President Lyndon Johnson.

It was Johnson who offered the nation both guns and butter so that the conflict would not inflict too much harm on the American economy. Ultimately, inflationary pressure induced President Richard Nixon to put price controls on key parts of the economy.

The world wars recede into history, but the idea that farmers have the responsibility to feed the world continues. Health and environmental authorities warn of massive worldwide food shortages as climate changes threatens millions of people with starvation.

One recently released report suggests that 1 billion people will be displaced from their homelands by drought, floods, and conflicts.

The World War 1 slogan “Food Will Win the War’’ may be as valid today as it was more than a century ago.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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