Rising to the Challenge: M. A. C. and Food Rationing During World War I

12 03 2018

Potato Crop Photo

There seems to be nothing more patriotic than sacrifice, especially when your country needs you. The sacrifice that most people think of are the lives of the servicemen and women who choose to fight for their country, but what about the sacrifices made at home? How do the people who stay home contribute to the war effort? By rationing food, particularly wheat and sugar. Food rationing is a common enough practice during war, and Michigan Agricultural College was no different during World War I.

“War bread” was the name for the replacement of wheat bread. In an effort to spread the idea of rationing, the M.A.C. women “placed in the corridor of the library building a table on which folders, circulars and literature on food conservation subjects, including recipes for war bread” were made available to the general public. Wheat was supplemented with other ingredients such as “barley, corn flour, cornmeal, bran flour, oat flour, rolled oats, boiled rice, rice flour, buckwheat” and even potatoes. While we are not at war ourselves, there is a familiarity in the dietary habits of the war restricted people of the past and our diet obsessed modern day culture. Some of these ingredients are still in use for gluten-free products.

Flour Ration Poster


The home economics course also stressed the need to cut back on wheat flour in their August 1918 edition of the extension course notes. In the introduction of the section titled “Breads for War Time,” it is stated that “…Allied countries have agreed that their wheat bread shall contain 20 per cent [sic] of other grains than wheat….no patriotic American housewife will use less than that amount until the necessity of helping our allies and those others dependent on us for food is passed.” It is made perfectly clear that this was not a request or a guideline. Not only is the standard clearly set on how much wheat was to be used, but a disregard for said standard would call into question the loyalty of the woman who dared to bake bread with more than 20% wheat flour.

Sugar had similar standards to bread, although some of the substitution options would have been more palatable than the bread options. Once again, it is the home economics course notes was the source providing alternative options when rationing sugar in cooking. Foods such as cereal, cakes and desserts were the main focuses in decreasing sugar, and many of the suggestions for substitution would have been dried fruits, corn syrup, or leaving out sugar altogether if possible: “Eat fruits for the fruit flavor–they contain their own sugar….Use plain cakes….Use corn syrup, cane syrup…apple or other fruit syrups, molasses, honey, jelly or jam made from syrup, in place of sugar.” There are also several alternative recipes listed to help students cope with the new war time diet they were facing. One such recipe was for apple pie. The ingredients listed were “2 C sliced apples/ ½ C corn syrup/ 1 T corn starch [sic]/ ½ t cinnamon,” and the directions were as minimal as the ingredients used: “Arrange apples in tin lined with plain pastry.  Combine corn syrup, corn starch and cinnamon and pour over the apples.” The replacement ingredient for sugar would have been the corn syrup, which would have allowed for meals to continue on with as few changes as possible.

Even traditional social events were subject to substituting their food. Every year, there was a barbecue held in front of Wells Hall. However, there had recently been a campus wide event to raise money for Liberty Bonds, so “ after…feeling a wee bit poverty stricken…the class of 1920 decided that it would be more in keeping with the wishes of Mr. Hoover to have a barbecue without the roast ox. As a substitute…was that stable luncheon delicacy, the Club C doughnut.” It was noted that the change in protein choice “was purely a wartime function,” so this wouldn’t be a new tradition, but rather, a show of support for the country and soldiers at war.

It was apparent that everyone was doing their part to ration what they could on campus, from student events to the departments to the students themselves. While it is apparent that most of the substitutes were meant to keep life going as similarly to before the war as possible, the differences are still there. Therefore, the resolve to help with the war from student and faculty alike is impressive, and the act of sacrificing such staples from a diet such as wheat, sugar and meat shows a commitment that is to be admired.

By Catharine Neely

“M. A. C. Women Push Food Campaign.” MAC Record, 9 Nov. 1917, vol. 23, no. 8.

“Breads for War Time,” Cooperative Extension Course Notes in Serial 00035, folder 35.

“How Can I Use Less Sugar?” Cooperative Extension Course Notes in Serial 00035, folder 35.

“How Can I Use Less Sugar?” Cooperative Extension Course Notes in Serial 00035, folder 35.

“Meatless Barbecue Big Success.” MAC Record, 9 Nov. 1917, vol. 23, no. 8.



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