Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 392–403 | Cite as

“Plant a victory garden: our food is fighting:” Lessons of food resilience from World War

  • Alesia Maltz


Today, the high ideals of local food production reverberate as a model of self-sufficiency and food security. In the USA and Great Britain during World War I (WWI), local food production was envisioned as ammunition to win the war. To what extent have the food policies and slogans of World Wars I and II influenced current ideas of the value of local strategies of food security in maintaining resilience, and what lessons does the history of war offer about food resilience? During World War I, German and British military strategists developed plans to win the war by leveraging actions to destroy their enemy’s civilian food system. This history triangulates the food resilience of a country that imported food (Great Britain) with one that grew its food locally (Germany), and one that exported surplus (the USA) to examine the strengths and limits of local food production. During World War I, Germany suffered over a million fatalities from famine, while the USA and Great Britain raised their national nutritional status by the end of the war. The tragic German experience led directly to the rise of World War II (WWII), a war initiated with a “Hunger Plan.” Nineteen million civilians died, many of starvation. A long historical time frame is needed to construct lessons about resilient food systems. This brief sketch of the dismantling and reconstruction of food systems in WWI and WWII draws from secondary sources to suggest novel ideas about the interplay between local production, national coordination, and international networks for humanitarian aid. Using the food policies of three countries—Great Britain, the USA, and Germany—this history provides an opportunity to consider the characteristics of resilient food systems, and to suggest what is required to reconstruct a large-scale food system following a crisis. War, a disrupter of food systems, also provides a model of how food systems can be reconstructed.


Resilience Local food systems Famine World War 



I am indebted to Ted Veiling of Norfolk, CT, for sharing his story of hunger in The Netherlands during WWII, and his message of courage and forgiveness.


  1. Ackerman-Leist W (2013) Rebuilding the foodshed: how to create local, sustainable, and secure food systems. Chelsea Green White River Junction, VTGoogle Scholar
  2. Ahamed L (2009) Lords of finance. Penguin, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett LM (1985) British food policy during the First World War. Routledge Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Bracero History Archive. Accessed June 2015.
  5. Collingham L (2012) The taste of war: World War II and the battle for food. Penguin, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Drummond JC, Wilbraham A (1939) The Englishman’s food: a history of five centuries of English diet. Pimlico, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Fergusen J (2007) The vitamin murders: who killed healthy eating in Britain? Portabello Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Gazzeley I, Newell A (2013) The First World War and working class food consumption in Britain. Eur Rev Econ Hist 17:71–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gowdy-Wygant C (2013) Cultivating victory: the Women’s Land Army and the victory garden movement. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  10. Howard NP (1993) The social and political consequences of the allied food blockade of Germany, 1918-19. Ger Hist 11(2):161–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. McAfee K (2008) Beyond techno-science: transgenic maize in the fight over Mexico’s future. Geoforum 39:148–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. McVay AD, Luciuk LY (eds) (2011) The Holy See and the Holodomor: documents from the Vatican Secret Archives on the Great Famine of 1932–1933 in Soviet Ukraine. The Kashtan Press, KingstonGoogle Scholar
  13. McWilliams J (2009) Just food: Where locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly. Back Bay Books, BostonGoogle Scholar
  14. Milles D (1995) Working capacity and calorie consumption: the history of rational physical economy. In: Kamminga H, Cunningham A (eds) The science and culture of nutrition 1840-1940. Rodopi, Atlanta, pp 75–96Google Scholar
  15. Moynahan B (2013) Leningrad: siege and symphony. Quercus, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Malden C. Nesheim, Maria Oria, and Peggy Tsai Yih (eds) (Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System) (2015) A framework for assessing effects of the food system. National Academies Press Accessed 1 April 2015
  17. Oddy DJ (2003) From plain fare to fusion foods: British diet from the 1890s to the 1990s. Boydell Press, SyracuseGoogle Scholar
  18. Solnit R (1997) A book of migrations. Verso, BrooklynGoogle Scholar
  19. Tunk TE (2012) Less sugar, more warships: food as American propaganda in the First World War. War Hist 19(2):193–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Veiling T (2014) Survival and resistance: The Netherlands under Nazi occupation. Talk given at Immaculate Conception Church, 14 October 2014Google Scholar
  21. Vincent CP (1986) The politics of hunger: the Allied Blockade of Germany 1915-1919. Ohio University Press, AthensGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Antioch University New EnglandKeeneUSA

Personalised recommendations