WWI food shortages changed American eating habits

Meatless Monday are nothing new. The same term was used during World War I to encourage Americans to eat non-meat proteins in response to food shortages in Europe.

Red meat was considered the most desirable animal protein. Home economists put together cookbooks with meat alternatives such as milk, cheese, eggs, fish, legumes and nuts. (Poultry was also considered a non-meat protein.)

One cookbook opens with The President’s Call to the Women of the Nation: “America and her allies must not run out of wheat, meat or fats. If we let that happen, Germany will win the war.”

Most war recipes were created to use products not needed for export — such as peanut butter which came into common usage during the war. Tree nuts were also promoted as a good protein alternative. The nut-cheese-and-date salad shown in this video uses cream cheese, as do many other recipes.

Recipes for peanut butter soup and the nut-cheese-and-date salad are the subject of the next video on the foods of World War I. Historian and chef Amanda Moniz will prepare the foods while historians Helen Veit from Michigan State University, the author of “Modern Food, Moral Food,” a book about American eating habits in the early 20th century, and Julia Irwin from the University of South Florida, author of “Making the World Safe,” about the country’s humanitarian awakening,  put the recipes into context for the time.

The filming was done at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. Construction of the Old Naval Hospital began in 1864 in response to the critical need for hospital care during the Civil War, but the building was not completed until 1866, after the war was over. During World War I, it was used for medical exams for recruits.

Makes 6 servings

Nut, Cheese, Date Salad

As unlikely as it seems, dipping these stuffed dates in mayonnaise, as suggested in the World War I cookbook "Win the War in the Kitchen" is quite tasty.


  • 18 dates
  • Cream cheese
  • 1/2 cups ground English walnuts or pecans


Stuff dates with cream cheese. Roll in nuts. Arrange 3 on salad plate. Pile mayonnaise in center.

Peanut Butter Soup

This recipe is adapted from from a chapter entitled, "Save Necessities -- Use Alternatives" in "Win the War in the Kitchen," a cookbook developed to save food and eliminate waste during World War I.


  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup boiling water (in which has been cooked 1/2 cup outer stalks celery)
  • 1 teaspoon potato starch
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper


With a blender or food processor, blend the peanut butter and 1 cup of the milk.

Heat the remainder of a the milk. To boiling water, add potato starch and butter. Cook until clear. Add to the hot milk. Add peanut butter mixture, salt and pepper.

With blender or food processor, combine ingredients. Strain and serve hot.

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