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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Ackerman-Leist W (2013) Rebuilding the foodshed: how to create local, sustainable, and secure food systems. Chelsea Green White River Junction, VT
Ahamed L (2009) Lords of finance. Penguin, New York
Barnett LM (1985) British food policy during the First World War. Routledge Press, New York
Bracero History Archive. http://braceroarchive.org/teaching. Accessed June 2015.
Collingham L (2012) The taste of war: World War II and the battle for food. Penguin, New York
Drummond JC, Wilbraham A (1939) The Englishman’s food: a history of five centuries of English diet. Pimlico, London
Feeding America (2013) Hunger and poverty fact sheet. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html?gclid=CJ7vtJ2_hcUCFTIQ7Aod0mYAVg. Accessed 1 April 2015
Fergusen J (2007) The vitamin murders: who killed healthy eating in Britain? Portabello Books, London
Gazzeley I, Newell A (2013) The First World War and working class food consumption in Britain. Eur Rev Econ Hist 17:71–94
Gowdy-Wygant C (2013) Cultivating victory: the Women’s Land Army and the victory garden movement. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh
Howard NP (1993) The social and political consequences of the allied food blockade of Germany, 1918-19. Ger Hist 11(2):161–188
McAfee K (2008) Beyond techno-science: transgenic maize in the fight over Mexico’s future. Geoforum 39:148–160
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, Kingston
McWilliams J (2009) Just food: Where locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly. Back Bay Books, Boston
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 75–96
Moynahan B (2013) Leningrad: siege and symphony. Quercus, London
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 http://www.nap.edu/catalog/18846/a-framework-for-assessing-effects-of-the-food-system Accessed 1 April 2015
Oddy DJ (2003) From plain fare to fusion foods: British diet from the 1890s to the 1990s. Boydell Press, Syracuse
Solnit R (1997) A book of migrations. Verso, Brooklyn
Tunk TE (2012) Less sugar, more warships: food as American propaganda in the First World War. War Hist 19(2):193–226
Veiling T (2014) Survival and resistance: The Netherlands under Nazi occupation. Talk given at Immaculate Conception Church, 14 October 2014
Vincent CP (1986) The politics of hunger: the Allied Blockade of Germany 1915-1919. Ohio University Press, Athens
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.
About this article
Cite this article
Maltz, A. “Plant a victory garden: our food is fighting:” Lessons of food resilience from World War. J Environ Stud Sci 5, 392–403 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0293-1
- Local food systems
- World War