Practical Suggestions for “An Army of Savers”: Home Front Food during Canada’s First World War, by Kesia Kvill

In September of 1917, the magazine Everywoman’s World published “An Army of Savers” calling Canada’s women to raise a battalion for a new army.

The call to-day is for Men, Munitions and food. Women have helped recruiting and have helped in the making of munitions. But our greatest opportunity has now been given us; we are called upon to regulate the nation’s meals, in order to save what is needed to send across the sea. Here it is – Women’s Big Duty (Caldwell, “An Army of Savers” 25).

The September issue focused on “Helping With the Food” and answering the readers’ questions about what they could do by providing practical information “about what others are doing and informing you as to what is expected of you and of every loyal Canadian to help in conserving the supply of food to cope with the impending crisis” (Everywoman’s World 1). Everywoman’s World promised to do their part to help by making advice available through the editor of their Food Department (Everywoman’s World 1).

Appetizers: Background to First World War Food

The history of food in Canada has only recently come to the attention of historians, and virtually nothing has been written on food on the Canadian home front during the First World War. Published in 2014, Ian Mosby’s Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture, and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front examines the food culture of the Second World War. He lays out some important ideas that are relevant for the study of First World War home front food. First, Mosby acknowledges that “even though it is often overlooked by historians, food tends to define the everyday… food is an ideal avenue for exploring the profound social, cultural, political, and scientific changes that characterized Canadians’ everyday experience of the Second World War” (6). Additionally, while food control did not win the Second World War on its own, it was an essential element of defining everyday life on the home front; “it became a central site where competing gendered visions of the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship” were debated on a national scale (Ibid.). Canada did not face rationing or food shortages in the First World War to the extent that they would in the Second World War or to the extent that European nations did during the 1914 to 1918 conflict. Saving food for overseas on the home front, however, was perceived by Canadians, particularly women, to be one of the most important parts of Canada’s contributions to the allied war effort. In June of 1917, the Canadian government appointed W.J. Hanna as Food Controller to discourage hoarding and encourage the conservation of food. Women’s magazines, like Everywoman’s World, and the Canada Food Board provided women with advice for managing their food consumption and cooking in a way that would save essential food and sundries for overseas. These recipe books and advice columns provide insight into the effects of the First World War on Canadian kitchens and the continued importance ascribed to women as homemakers even as they increasingly began to fulfill roles in the public sphere; like the many other aspects of home front life, the kitchen contribution was voluntary.

When inflated prices and food shortages began to threaten the Canadian war effort in 1917, William John Hanna, a Conservative MLA and business man from Ontario, was appointed the Food Controller for Canada (Comeau). Desmond Morton addresses the transformation of Prime Minister Borden’s laissez-faire policies in A Military History of Canada. At the beginning of the war, Borden had advocated a non-interventionist approach to the home front economy, however as the war dragged on, the Canadian government began to intervene in the regulation of the economy. New officials were introduced, including Food Controller Hanna, to control certain areas of the economy. Hanna, like the fuel controller, cost-of-living commissioner, chief censor and other officials had powers “under the War Measures Act to investigate, direct, advise, inspect and control” (Morton 159). While he used some of his regulatory authority, Hanna focused his work on maximising food production for overseas and “encouraging voluntary restraint and changes in eating habits” (Comeau). Rejecting rationing, Hanna checked soaring food prices with travelling salesmen turned food control agents and “instructed housewives on cheap recipes” (Morton 160). Jeffery Keshen’s Propaganda and Censorship During Canada’s Great War discusses food and its control, addressing the production of propaganda from the Food Controller’s office and Hanna’s role in stressing public participation in food conservation campaigns. The Food Controller established “provincial and local food control sub-committees under well-known community figures. As well, in each of 25 administrative districts, a major retailer was appointed to rally their business collogues to the task of promoting conservation and food production” (Keshen 53). Pamphlets were circulated by local volunteers and women of a Domestic Economy Section put on demonstrations to teach housewives how to can food and “how to use more plentiful foodstuffs such as corn to prepare a variety of patriotic meals” (Keshen 53). Keshen credits Hanna’s food control efforts with the successful decrease in food consumption, freeing up food for the troops and negating the need for rationing (52-53). British works, like Rachel Duffet’s The Stomach for Fighting and Andrew Robertshaw’s Feeding Tommy, examine food eaten by soldiers during the First World War, and while they are pertinent to the experiences of Canadian soldiers overseas, they do not provide any aid in the study of home front foodways. Neither do they actually examine the advice given or recipes that were produced by the Canada Food Board or women’s magazines about eating on the home front.

Saving Your Bacon: Advice from the Food Controller

On 17 August 1917, W.J. Hanna issued a statement to Canadians, calling them to do their part in saving “every bit of food” (Ibid.). Published on the front of War Meals: Practical Suggestions to Save Beef, Bacon, Wheat and Flour to Meet the War-Needs Overseas, Hanna’s message included three things for Canadians to do: produce all they could, waste nothing, and shift their consumption as much as possible from wheat, flour, beef and bacon to other foods that were “just as wholesome… but are not as suitable for shipment to overseas in war time” (Canada Food Board, War Meals cover). The back cover of the War Meals pamphlet made it clear to readers that victory was dependent upon their food service through the use of bold statements like “HELP THE FIGHTERS TO WIN,” “YOU BETRAY YOUR COUNTRY’S CAUSE WHEN YOU WASTE FOOD,” and “VICTORY IS DEPENDENT UPON THE EXTENT OF YOUR FOOD SERVICE” (Ibid.). The pamphlet did not contain recipes, however, it did contain suggestions for planning well-balanced meals as well as ideas for the modification of recipes and food consumption.

The Food Controller advised that white flour could be diluted by adding corn, oat, rye, or barley flour at any “proportion up to 20 percent” to make a palatable bread. Cooked breakfast foods were also suggested as an addition to bread dough (Canada Food Board, War Meals 6). The Food Controller also suggested ways to conserve beef and bacon. Joining a “Beef Ring” allowed groups to share an entire carcass “according to fixed rules, so that in the course of the year each member” would receive an equal share of the different cuts (Canada Food Board, War Meals 7). Bacon, the food control board suggested, could be banished from the table without suffering. Salt pork and ham would make good substitutes for flavour and could be easily saved to provide flavour to other dishes. The final piece of advice offered in War Meals reminded the consumer, “that thorough mastication of food is a measure of conservation as well as of health” (Ibid.). The man who chewed his food properly would nourish his body and satisfy his palate “with smaller quantities than the man who bolts his meals” (Ibid.). This particular advice pamphlet did not place sole responsibility on women for food control (though they were clearly in charge of the kitchen), but included all Canadians as responsible for changing their eating habits to help the Canada Food Board to increase food production and reduce food waste. Voluntary food control and the expectations of the program were tied to the changing relationship of citizens and the state. Canadians’ sense of obligation and duty towards the federal government affected the attitudes of many toward the conscription of men, women, and wealth, which was viewed as a way to facilitate equality of sacrifice (Shaw 20-26); the government’s promotion of lean kitchen management was, in effect, the conscription of food.

Published a month later, Food Service: A Hand Book for Speakers provided advice to speakers on the preparation of an address, which was clearly intended for an audience of women, for advocating Canadian food service. The front of the pamphlet listed as one if its main facts, “Housewives must absolutely eliminate waste” (Canada Food Board, Food Service 2). Hanna also included an appeal to the women of Canada in this preparatory book; he believed that every woman was required for food service. The reduction in domestic consumption of flour, beef, and bacon was seen by the Food Controller as essential for victory. It was not that Canadians were experiencing a food shortage themselves—but releasing “storable food for export,” would be of great aid to the armies on the battlefield. Hanna had every confidence in the women of Canada who had “met every appeal that has been made to them so splendidly” and shared how they could help the food situation by saving bread, flour, beef, and bacon, using and preserving perishable foods, serving their families more fish, and by eliminating waste. He assured women that conserving food was not stingy; it was “common sense and a duty to the country.” Hanna’s appeal finished,

Women of Canada, your work is of vital importance, and the kitchen dress has become a uniform in which you may serve the Empire and humanity even as your men in the King’s Uniform. Their service cannot become effective without your help.

Sign the Food Service Pledge. Organize your household for victory (Canada Food Board, Food Service 9, bold and italics in original).

The Food Controller saw the need for Canadians to reduce their food consumption in order to ensure that the allied armies and people of Britain were fed. Women were the people primarily responsible for the consumption of food on the home front and were the intended targets of the Food Board’s propaganda and pamphlets.

The War Meals and Food Service pamphlets have distinctly separate audiences; the first intends to reach all members of the family while the second is clearly aimed at women. Presumably, the difference lies in the content and intended function of each guide. The goals of War Meals encompassed the production, consumption, and waste of food stuffs. Because men were the bread winners of the household and the majority of Canadians still lived in rural areas, a large part of the population would have been involved in the production of food through agricultural endeavours (Statistics Canada states that the rural population was 55% in 1911 and 51% in 1921. Statistics Canada). Additionally, War Meals provides advice for major household decisions, like the collective purchase of a cow, which would necessitate the involvement of the male bread winner (Canada Food Board, War Meals). In contrast, Food Service is very clearly aimed at women. As a pamphlet that was used to prepare speakers for presentations it is possible that it was intended to inform a male speaker of the importance women held to victory. The booklet itself deals more directly with the ways in which women can save food within their kitchen; it overlooks any outside or major economic decisions but stays strictly to practical and easy to implement suggestions (Canada Food Board, Food Service).

The Canada Food Board took over the Office of the Food Controller on 11 February 1918 (Driver 547-9). The Board produced and advertised four separate recipe books on vegetables, fruits, bread, and fish for 5 cents each (The Imperial War Museums). Copies of these recipe books did not survive in vast quantities and are difficult to find, suggesting that they were not widely purchased or used. The lack of surviving copies of the Canada Food Board cookbooks, likely written by men with little practical kitchen knowledge or experience, may also suggest that women found the recipes to be dissatisfactory and impractical and chose to rid themselves to the books in their kitchen stoves in favour of advice given by women in magazines and newspapers like Everywoman’s World. I have chosen to examine the advice and recipes shared in Everywoman’s World from the introduction of the Food Control Board in June of 1917 to the end of the war. During the First World War Everywoman’s World was the most widely-read magazine in Canada (—, Beth), making it a suitable source for finding more about how Canadian women were conserving food and managing their kitchens on the home front. The magazine not only provided advice from the Food Controller and Canada Food Board, but advice from its own staff and contributions from readers. Everywoman’s World included suggestions on how women could make their contributions to the war effort through regulating their food consumption in their kitchens by providing advice and recipes until the end of the war. One issue in particular stands out for its focus on food control.

The Call to Serve: Women, the Kitchen, and Duty

The September 1917 edition of Everywoman’s World appears to be the first to include a significant amount of advice on food conservation. The month’s editorial, written by Chas. C. Nixon, was titled “Every Woman A Food Controller.” It began, “WE stand to-day on the threshold of the greatest food crisis that the world has ever seen… of world-wide food shortage, serious to an extent beyond belief in this country of plentiful food supply.” Nixon quoted Food Controller Hanna and agreeably “placed the full responsibility squarely upon every Canadian woman” to control the food supply. Women were to take a creed, pledging their belief in their responsibility to reduce their food consumption to feed the people of Great Britain, France, and the European allies. They were asked to cut down only one-sixth of their food consumption of readily exported foods, such as wheat, bacon, cheese, poultry “and some other minor food stuffs” in order to meet the needs of the allies (Nixon 3). Women were given the sole responsibility to manage their family’s food consumption and reduce waste. The creed also focused on duty and patriotism, asking women to pledge, “that I as a loyal Canadian woman should do at least twice what is my average share of any sacrifice in this regard, because some people will be so unresponsive and so disloyal to our cause” (Ibid.). Reducing food consumption, the Food Controller and the magazine editor pointed out, was no sacrifice compared to the sacrifice being made by the men in the trenches (Ibid.).

The focus of the month’s issue appears to have been influenced by a recent food conservation convention in Ontario. A report, “Carried to You by One Who Attended the Food Conservation Convention, to Report all of the Essential Facts and Catch the Interesting Sidelights for the Readers of Everywoman’s World” provided details of the convention where Food Controller Hanna had focused on the facts. These facts were, mainly, that Canadians had a duty to reduce their food consumption and eliminate waste in order to provide for their soldiers and their allies (Kyle 26). The article went on to discuss the second day of the convention. After the delegates shared how their communities had been preserving food to help with the war effort, their conversation drifted into unharmonious territory demonstrating that “the women of our country are thinking deeply and seriously of the big issues of the day” (Ibid.). Interestingly, at this point, the women began to use the convention to prove their political savvy by electing a committee instead of drawing names like one woman had suggested. The delegates further used the food control convention to discuss their general political concerns, mainly their support for conscription, opposition to a general election, and their opposition to “Beer and Booze.” As the third concern dealt with the “use of precious foodstuffs for the manufacture of beer” the women moved to ask for legislation against its production. Unfortunately, the male convention chairman returned, dashing “their high hopes of speaking their minds in a united voice to the guardians of our country in Ottawa” and forcing the women focus on the business of food conservation “and the encouragement of thrift and economy” (Kyle 30).

Being called back to the topic at hand, the women still had “clear ideas of what should be done by the government of the country and they were neither slow nor timid in putting their demands before the Food Controller and his colleagues.” The women called for the conversion of grain and sugar into beer to be stopped: “Beer is not food. Beer is not a necessity.” The strengthening of food resources and prevention of waste, the women insisted, included a stop in beer manufacturing (Ibid.). The women in attendance at the food control convention reported on in Everywoman’s World made it clear that they had already been voluntarily doing their part for the war effort in their kitchens; which was in line with how Canadians on the home front had been contributing to other areas of the war effort. They asserted their belief that the control over their kitchens and food consumption of precious wheat and sugar should be extended to the manufacture of alcohol. Sacrificing their usual way of preparing and eating food for the sake of patriotic duty gave women leverage in their political ideas, particularly regarding temperance. If they were being asked to cut down on the consumption of wheat in the home, than the elimination of alcohol production would logically free up an even greater quantity of wheat. The inclusion of the report on the convention demonstrates the magazine’s commitment to including the views of women on how they were being asked to monitor their consumption of food to make important staples available for overseas consumption.

Recipes for Waste Reduction: Advice from Everywoman’s World

Katherine Caldwell, Editor of the Food Department at Everywoman’s World, presented women with practical suggestions to saving food in her feature “An Army of Savers.” To save on sugar and flour women were told to order it by the weight instead of by the price. Fruits and vegetables could be saved through canning and drying, “fruits and vegetables never had such a big, worthwhile mission in life before! Every bit of perishable food that is saved from loss means added strength against the Huns” (Caldwell, “An Army of Savers” 25). Saving food was woman’s patriotic contribution to the war effort—food was her weapon and the kitchen her battlefield. Caldwell addressed the benefits of starting a stock pot. Every time a cook “threw away the water in which spinach, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables were boiled,” they threw away “the valuable iron and all the other mineral matter that was in it.” The solution to this unpatriotic waste was found in the creation of a stock pot. The mineral-rich water from boiling potatoes and spinach made a good base for soup. Bits of vegetable leftovers might be added and even the smallest amount of the previous night’s leftover meat would add plenty of flavour to the stock. The stock could be easily turned to soup and quickly completed by adding dried vegetables or barley (Caldwell, “An Army of Savers” 32).

Caldwell told the story of a woman who had been embarrassed to share her biscuit recipe with her church friends because she had used chicken and bacon fat to make them. However, because of the emerging pride of women in their contributions to wartime economy the woman felt it was now her duty to share her secret. She told the members of her sewing club and the girls who cooked meals for the Red Cross every week how she had “been trying out all the fats” that came from the different meats. She recommended that pork, fowl, and beef fats made excellent shortening and roasting fats while mutton fat was only good for cooking mutton. Any surplus fat she rendered that was not appropriate for cooking was made into soap (Ibid.). The Food Department editor also drew her readers’ attentions to the horrible waste of meat that stemmed from eating veal, lamb, and eggs. These animals “would become cows and sheep, producing milk, or great quantities of beef” and other meat. Caldwell recommended that Canadians adopt the English fashion of cutting bread at the table, as it is needed. Stale bread should be made into a “delicious pudding, with milk, an egg, and a little jam,” or a soufflé with a couple eggs and some cheese. Bread crumbs could be saved in jars and used to roll cutlets or to add to meat or fish loaves. The main message was, “not one crumb must escape. Every grain of wheat” was needed to help with “‘Win the War’ housekeeping.” Women were given the sole responsibility to make their families enjoy the Win-the-War meals by avoiding monotony and supplementing the other flours for white flour occasionally (Ibid.).

Another article in the September 1917 issue of Everywoman’s World provided women with information on up to date food values by examining its nutritional worth through calories. Knowledge of how many calories were in certain foods was promoted as a way to help women feed their families better and more cheaply (Caldwell, “Up-to-Date” 27). The suggestion of Food Controller for meatless and wheatless days prompted the inclusion of a column containing recipes for “Meatless Meals.” The column suggested replacing meats with foods high in protein including fish, legumes, nuts, cheese, milk, and eggs. The meatless recipes included mock turkey made from puréed beans or peas mixed with eggs, breadcrumbs, finely chopped peanuts and formed into a loaf. A second unusual recipe, peanut roast, called for “1 quart slightly toasted bread crumbs. 2 cups peanut butter. 2 medium onions. 1 cup milk. 1 tablespoon summer savory. 2 cups mashed potatoes. 4 eggs. 2 teaspoons salt.” The ingredients were combined and cooked for one hour in a bread tin. It was suggested that it be served with parsley and cranberry or red currant jelly. The author of the meatless meals column was listed as ‘PATRIOT’ (PATRIOT 28). Clearly promoting the ideas and suggestions of Food Controller Hanna, the magazine editors provided its readers with recipes that cut back on consumption of wheat and meat. By making the author of the recipes a ‘PATRIOT’ Everywoman’s World suggested that those who altered their cooking and eating habits by making the meals were fulfilling their patriotic duty.

The Food Controller, Canada Food Board, and women’s magazines like Everywoman’s World focused their attentions on women’s importance to controlling food in the home. While women experienced an increased sense of autonomy and contributed to the war effort outside of the home, their patriotic duties and sacrifice extended to their kitchen. The Food Controller produced advice pamphlets for women on how to alter their cooking to fit in with the Food Board’s overall goals of ensuring that the Canadian Corps and its allies would not be starved into surrender. Everywoman’s World provided a forum for women to share practical suggestions and recipes that aligned with the Food Controller’s requests of voluntary rationing. Food was an important part of Canada’s wartime contributions and an examination of the advice and recipes produced during the First World War provides insight into the ways the war infiltrated and influenced all aspects of life on the home front – including the kitchen.

Works Cited

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