World War I rallying cry: Food will win the war

World War I touched Americans in their home kitchens well before the U.S. entered the war. In response to food shortages in Europe, the U.S. government made a huge effort to conserve food and send much-needed supplies to Europe. When the Americans joined the conflict in 1917, food was made a central issue. That year, President Woodrow Wilson created the United States Food Administration and named future President Herbert Hoover to lead it. Their slogan was: “Food Will Win the War.”

In a series of videos, American Food Roots in cooperation with the National World War I Museum will demonstrate how the policy played out in American homes. The videos will become part of the museum’s online exhibit called War Fare.

be-patriotic (1) pledge

Poster courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress

The Food Administration promoted voluntary food conservation suggesting “meatless Mondays” and “wheatless Wednesdays.” Farmers were persuaded to increase production so there was enough food for Americans on both the warfront and the homefront and to supply their allies in Europe as well. Local food boards held canning demonstrations, handed out recipes replacing wheat and sugar with other ingredients and translated it all into languages such as Yiddish and Italian for recent immigrants.

An official cookbook was published called “Win the War in the Kitchen.” It included sections on “why we must save sugar,” meat substitutes, war cakes, sugarless quick breads and why fat is so precious. Historian and chef Amanda Moniz will prepare a full meal — from soup to nuts — from this cookbook and another called “Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them.

While Moniz is cooking, 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, will 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.

This series supported by
Butternut Mountain Farm, makers of
the maple squeeze bottle.

Makes 2 loaves

War Bread

During World War I, white flour was thought to be the purest, healthiest flour and so was saved for the troops. Many breads of the era used "thirded" recipes, recipes that included three different types of grain -- a throwback to Boston brown bread. The original version of this recipe calls for 1 cake of yeast and for the bread to be baked in "moderately hot oven." We have done the conversions for you. This recipe was adapted from "Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them," by C. Houston Goudiss and Alberta M. Goudiss.


  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fat
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup lukewarm water
  • 6 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 6 cups rye flour
  • 1½ cups whole wheat flour


Pour the boiling water into a large bowl and add the sugar, fat and salt. Put the bowl aside to cool.

Meanwhile, dissolve the yeast in the 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. When the boiled water cools enough to keep a finger in it for a few seconds, add the dissolved yeast. Add the rye and whole wheat flour.

Cover and let rise until twice its bulk, shape into loaves; let rise until double and bake about 40 minutes, in a 350-degree oven.

Makes 1 loaf

Salmon Loaf

Fish was seen as a plentiful and economic alternative to meat. (In fact, even chicken was considered a meat alternative.) Recipes of the World War I era also assumed a certain amount of cooking skill. The original directions for this recipe, adapted from "Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them," by C. Houston Goudiss and Alberta M. Goudiss, simply said "Mix thoroughly. Bake in greased dish 30 minutes." We have offered a bit more help.


  • 2 cups cooked salmon
  • 1 cup grated breadcrumbs
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoonful onion juice


Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Grease an 8 1/2-by-4-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until well combined. Form the mixture into a log and place it in the greased loaf pan. Bake until cooked through, about 1 hour or until firm.

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  1. Video Series on World War I food - November 10, 2014

    […] American Food Roots launches a video series this Veteran’s Day profiling the food of World War I and its impact on American culture. […]

  2. MSU History Department - November 11, 2014

    […] in World War I, featuring Assistant Professor of history Helen Veit. The link to the first video is here. […]