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


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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Alesia Maltz.

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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

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  • Resilience
  • Local food systems
  • Famine
  • World War