October 29, 2014
The first food pledge week was October 29 through November 4, 1917. Yes, 1917! It was an effort by the federal government, with President Woodrow Wilson at the helm, to introduce voluntary rationing of critical resources during World War I. Along with gasless Sundays, Americans were asked to practice meatless Mondays and wheatless Wednesdays.
In 1917, the passage of the Lever Act was intended to direct the conservation of food and fuel. United States Food Administrator Herbert Hoover, appointed by President Wilson, launched a campaign that same year in which homemakers were asked to sign a pledge to conserve food in support of war efforts. First Lady Edith Wilson was the first to sign the pledge. Pledge signers received a “Membership Window Card” to be displayed in their homes.
The campaign used 1917-style social media: newspaper advertisements, posters, and local speeches by the 4 Minute Men. Who were the 4 Minute Men you ask? They were volunteers across the nation who addressed the public at theaters to share information with citizens from the government. They had “4 minutes, no more” to deliver the food conservation message, “Right eating is best for your palate, your health, and your pocketbook.”
The campaign stressed that participation was voluntary but “an urgent necessity” to justly distribute food at fair prices. Appeals were made to American households to join the Food Administration in serving our country, helping our allies, saving money, and improving health.
The messages are very similar to what we see featured in today’s health conscious headlines.
– Eat less sugar because we eat more than we need.
– Consume a variety of foods including lots of fruits and vegetables.
– Use less fat when cooking, and broil, bake, or boil instead of frying.
– Waste no food by watching portion sizes, eating less, and saving scraps for stews and stocks.
– Save on transportation by eating homegrown and local products.
– Cut back on meat by buying less, serving smaller portions, and going meatless one day a week.
That last message ultimately inspired the creation of Meatless Monday, a public health awareness campaign. Started in 2003 by Sid Lerner of The Monday Campaigns, Meatless Monday has grown into a global movement. These days the Great War is not being waged between the Allies and the Central Powers; instead, concerned citizens are fighting the ill effects of saturated fat and striving to mitigate climate change. An easy way to eat less saturated fat is to skip meat one day a week. Beyond being good for your health, Meatless Monday is fantastic for the planet because opting to replace some meat with plants can shrink your environmental footprint. Why? Compared to growing vegetables, meat production requires more water, soil, fuel, and cropland, while generating more greenhouse gases.
To commemorate Food Pledge Week, take your own pledge to go meatless one day a week. Visit Pledge to Go Meatless and join the growing number of people, families, and institutions pledging to improve their health and the health of our planet.
Here’s where to find more of these fabulous Great War–era posters.
The University of Colorado Digital Library’s World War I Collection