Recipes for Waste Reduction

Kesia Kvill

Fig. 1. "Waste Not - Want Not," 1914-1918. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 2894436
Fig. 1. “Waste Not – Want Not,” 1914-1918. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-706, MIKAN no. 2894436

In June of 1917, the Canadian Government introduced the Office of the Food Controller under the direction of Conservative Ontario politician and businessman, W.J. Hanna. The introduction of Food Controller during the First World War was part of Canada’s recognition that they were one of the main sources for food staples to Great Britain.

One of the Office of the Food Controller’s main goals was to educate the public on how to reduce their use of essential foodstuffs like beef, bacon, and wheat, that were high in energy source and easily shipped overseas. The government encouraged women to voluntarily free up these essential food products by changing their food consumption and diets. The Food Controller encouraged the use of less popular cereal grains and flours, cheaper cuts of meat, and larger amounts of fresh and persevered local produce. Kitchen managers were also encouraged to free up food for the Allies by reducing their food waste.

As part of their educational efforts, the Office of the Food Controller published a variety of pamphlets that explained the importance of food control through careful meal planning and thoughtful waste reduction. While these pamphlets did not include specific recipes, they clearly emphasized the threat of food waste and encouraged Canadian women to alter their families’ eating habits from the extravagant diets that had been a feature of the pre-war era.

Fig. 2. "Waste Means Defeat," 1914-1918. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-710, MIKAN no. 3667237
Fig. 2. “Waste Means Defeat,” 1914-1918. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-710, MIKAN no. 3667237

The “Waste Not – Want Not” section in the government-published Food Service: A Handbook for Speakers called food waste in a time of war a crime. It professed that Canadians wasted at least $50,000,000 in food every year and warned women to guard against “waste in the kitchen and pantry” and in the dining-room. They suggest that instead of throwing bones into the garbage that that “every scrap of marrow” should be boiled out and made into soup. As a handbook for speakers, the suggestions for waste reduction made in Food Service focused on using the facts to demonstrate the importance of food control to the war effort.

War Meals, another Food Controller published pamphlet, aimed to provide more practical suggestions for saving beef, bacon, wheat, and flour through waste reduction. This publication suggests that careful planning and meal preparation “will enable a housekeeper to make her food purchases go as far as possible.” Several suggestions for meals were made, with attention paid to the type of work performed by men and what they should eat and the age of children. To feed a family of five (with children’s ages ranging from 3-12) for a week it was suggested that the woman of the house plan for meals with 10 lbs meat/substitute, 20lbs cereal product, 20lbs potatoes, 28lbs of veggies and fruit, 3lbs of fat, 14 quarts milk. This, it was noted, would fulfill the family’s nutritional needs, but left no room for “the waste of anything usable.”

Fig. 3. "Sign the Food Service Pledge," 1914-1918. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-719, MIKAN no. 3667246
Fig. 3. “Sign the Food Service Pledge,” 1914-1918. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-719, MIKAN no. 3667246

The government suggestions in War Meals include ideas for conserving wheat, like diluting wheat flour with other grains, potatoes, and cooked breakfast cereal. War Meals provided some ideas on reducing food waste by preventing food spoilage and through transforming one food product into another. Bread, it was noted, could be saved by cutting no more than needed and drying it thoroughly to save from mould if it could not be finished. Leftover cooked breakfast cereal could be added into batters and doughs, and leftover bread could be made into “new bread, cake or puddings.” Cooks were encouraged to waste no ham and salt pork (used as a bacon substitute), as “even the rind and bones … [could be conserved] for the flavour” they provided to other dishes. Locally grown vegetables and fruits could be preserved to prevent their spoilage and to lengthen their enjoyment into the winter months.

The Office of the Food Controller knew that its primary audience was women and that their work as kitchen managers was essential to reducing food waste. Throughout their literature, it acknowledged the pride that women took in providing plentiful and varied diets for their families. The Food Controller’s appeal asked that the “foolish notion that carefulness in serving food without waste is ‘stinginess’” be abandoned in the name of duty and common sense. The Office reinforced the expertise of women by suggesting that cooks use and modify their favourite recipes; their “ingenuity will devise many ways of saving” important foodstuffs for the Allies. By recognizing the importance of women to the food situation, the government was simultaneously reinforcing gendered boundaries of work while also encouraging women to participate fully in the war effort as citizens.

The funeral of Mrs Potato: a round-up of World War I recipes

A few days ago, while visiting the exposition ’14-18 – it’s our history’ at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History in Brussels, Belgium, one document particularly caught my attention: an obituary notice for the passing of Mrs Potato.

The French text reads as follows:

Announcement of the death of Mrs Potato, 1916
Announcement of the death of Mrs Potato, Brussels, 1916

Mr Joe SPUD, his wife Industry TATER [the word in the original is the dialectal Walloon word ‘crompire’];

Mr ONION, his wife Mrs LEEK and their children shallot and gherkin;

Mr CELERY, his wife Mrs CHERVIL, their child parsley;

Mr SPINACH, his wife Mrs SORREL, their children salt and pepper;

Mr CARROT, his wife Mrs TURNIP, their children green cabbage and cauliflower;

Mr GARDEN PEA, his wife Mrs FRENCH BEAN;

Widow CHICORY, born in Brussels;

have the great pain to inform you of the cruel loss they have suffered in the person of

Mrs POTATO

Born in Canada, piously deceased in Brussels

The funerals will take place every day at one (Central European time) in all homes where bellies go empty and cooking pots are in mourning.

Pray that her soul may rest in peace and that she may resurrect soon.

No flowers or wreaths.

Having never suffered from hunger, this satirical text brought things home for me. How does one cook without the most basic of ingredients? How does one go through their day without one of the cheapest source of carbohydrates? Here is a round-up of sites and blogs that may offer some answers to these questions.

Painting by R. Willems-Geurt on a sand cabine at the Belgian sea resort of Koksijde. Photo: Laurence Totelin, August 2014
Painting by R. Willems-Geurts on a sand cabine at the Belgian sea resort of Koksijde. Photo: Laurence Totelin, August 2014

The Telegraph tells us how to prepare a Trench Cake, which included currants, cocoa, ginger and nutmeg, perhaps to hide the fact that it was mostly made of flour and margarine – no eggs or butter in sight. Cookit! for its part gives us the recipe for a Trench Stew based on the recollections of a soldier from the 9th Bedfordshire Regiment. Beth Wilmshurst at greatfood mag reproduces several recipes from the 1918 British Ministry of Food, Win the War Cookery Book. The fish sausages are particularly intriguing –  might give them a try myself.

David Setevenson devotes an interesting post to the War effort at home on the British Library website, including information on food supply and rationing. Note at the bottom of the post the photo of the Belgian Cookbook (1915), which includes recipes sent by Belgian refugees. Edible Swansea had written a fascinating post on that same book a couple of years ago.

Painting by L. Ardaean at the sea-resort of Koksijde, Belgium.  Photo: Laurence Totelin, August 2014
Painting by L. Ardaen at the sea-resort of Koksijde, Belgium.
Photo: Laurence Totelin, August 2014

In the USA, the University of Wisconsin has an amazing collection of North American documents relating to food and cooking during and after World War I: Recipe for Victory: Food and Cooking in Wartime. The following title  by the United States Food Administration particularly caught my attention: Food saving and sharing, telling how the older children of America may help save from famine their comrades in allied lands across the sea, prepared under the direction of the United States Food administration in cooperation with the United States Department of agriculture and the Bureau of education (1918). The tract is 102 pages in length, showing that the Food Administration expected quite a lot from its ‘older children’. The National World War Museum at Liberty National in collaboration with American Food Roots has produced a series of videos on food, cooking and rationing. The Doughboy Cookbook, by the Quartermaster Corps Foundation, presents several adapted recipes (with no claim to full authenticity) that soldiers would have used. Note in particular the ‘Mess Sergeant’s Java‘ or ‘Black Jack’ a nauseating recipe for recycling coffee involving egg-shells and salt.

Finally, in Toronto a Symposium ‘Recipe for Victory – Great War Food‘ took place in September. It involved recipe testing and tasting, including a tasting of Canadian butter tarts, on which you will find more information here.

There is of course much more to be found on the web, but no orgy of blog-reading on war recipes will ever give me a full sense of what it really felt to be hungry and scared in a trench or on the home-front. Lest we forget.

NB: many of the links above were suggested by Amanda Herbert, who is currently on leave.