In 1914, talk of war began bubbling to the surface in the U.S.
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on Congress for a special joint session regarding involvement in the ongoing war in Europe. Congress voted upon whether to join the Allies, and while many Congressmen such as John Esch of La Crosse voted against the resolution, it nonetheless passed on April 6, 1917. Thus began the rallying for the war and the conservation of valuable wartime resources.
One of the most rationed resources was food, especially fresh produce and animal products. In March 1917, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the U. S. War Garden Commission, launching the first war garden, or “victory garden,” campaign. The public was encouraged to grow crops in private gardens and public parks in order to reduce the strain on the public food supply, and more than 5 million gardens were constructed to aid the war effort. In La Crosse, 378 student from Hamilton Elementary School used their victory gardens to grow and harvest bushels of beans and potatoes. Two students, Amy Rundhough and Eddie Balzer, even won prizes for their victory gardens.
As well as promoting the implementation of victory gardens, The U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Emergency Food Garden Commission, State Councils of Defense, and other organizations began educating the public on how to efficiently preserve food grown in victory gardens at home.
The NEFGC called preserving vegetables and fruits a “patriotic duty,” as America was “responsible for the food supply of her European Allies.” In its pamphlet for home canning, the NEFGC emphasized that elimination of food waste was an imperative part of supporting the war, and that crops easily available in the summer could be conserved at home for later use without waste. It also teaches the reader not only how to can efficiently at home, but how to do it safely by sterilizing equipment.
Wheat substitution helped conserve the grain for soldier rations in 1917, and during wartime the Agricultural Extension Service of the University of Wisconsin distributed pamphlets labeled “Other Kinds of Bread.” This informative pamphlet detailed how to use potatoes, barley, rye or other alternatives in recipes for bread and even desserts.
Another UW pamphlet shows how to preserve eggs. Waterglassing eggs, or preserving them in a solution of sodium silicate, was a common method. The pamphlet also showed the reader how to determine whether an egg was fresh via candling, as only fresh eggs were suitable for preservation.
Food preservation during the war helped assure victory for the Allies during WWI.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 1, 2018.