Food Conservation, October 16, 1917

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We have all come to realize during the last eventful years that the world is being transformed and remodeled before our eyes. Our very hopes and fears are becoming enlarged and internationalized; the humblest individual is learning, perforce, to look at life with something of the historic perspective, and his daily impressions register the reaction of a great world movement. We are not surprised, therefore, that the head of the new Department of Food Administration in Washington makes an appeal to the women of the United States in the name of the food shortage of the entire world; that President Wilson's call for mobilization, issued June 16, contained phrases beseeching the pledges of the women, as well as asking for the cooperation of the men; that Mr. Hoover should insist that because "we are faced with a world shortage the situation is more than war, it is a problem of humanity." He tells us that no matter how low the prices may go, nor how high they may reach, the real problem remains -- can we, the United States, produce enough for ourselves and enough more to make up the deficiency of those nations with whom we have entered into obligations? He further assures us that the necessity of these economies is actually independent [page 2] of any political or military events which may intervene in the immediate future. If the war were to end tomorrow, there would still be a shortage of food. There is an actual deficit of food supply which can only be understood by an intelligent study of the world's resources. Mr. Hoover tells us that this crisis is due first of all to the poor harvest of 1916 in both hemispheres. He illustrates how ↑by↓ Argentina, which has long been an exporting country, but this year has had barely enough wheat for its own use, and is, of course, exporting none. Because of this crop shortage, the world's wheat supplies are lower than ever before. Sugar and fat supplies are also far below the requirements even of the United States.

In addition to the universal bad harvests, the war has made a tremendous diversion of man power from the fields to the firing line. Forty million men are in active army service, twenty million men and women are supporting them by their war activities, munition-making, etc. These are all unproductive, and in addition to not feeding others, they themselves must be fed. In Europe today the fields are worked by children and women and by war prisoners, with a further diminution in their food returns. The European fields during the three years of war are lacking in fertilizing materials which can not be brought as usual from South American and other [page 3] ports, nor can they be manufactured at the moment in Europe because of the demand for war material. All the available nitrogen, for instance, which is most necessary to the soil, is being used for ammunition. Over one million tons of food-carrying ships have been torpedoed since February 1, this year, and many markets are absolutely isolated. In the present disordered state of the world's food supply, in the interruption of the orderly exchange of those commodities upon which the whole world has come to depend, the fear of famine has returned into the world with so many other primitive and half-forgotten fears.

Today England is ruled by a Food Controller. Everyone is on limited rations. No one may consume more than four pounds of bread weekly. The meat ration is two and a half pounds a week. Only three-quarters of a pound of sugar is allowed per individual. Cake and pastry have been stopped. Waste is punished by imprisonment.

Russia is suffering from a disorganization of her agricultural life. The immediate cause of the Revolution was food riots. Petrograd is on a food card basis. In Stockholm food has increased in cost from 200 to 300 [percent]. Bread, milk, and flour cards have [page 4] been in force for six months past.

France has far less food than she needs. All her men are at the front. Her women are cultivating her once fertile fields. She is suffering acutely from lack of coal and sugar. The government has prescribed a war bread to save wheat. Meat may be served only once a day, and not at the evening meal. Waste of bread or other food stuffs is a crime.

Practically all Europe is living on rations, either prescribed by the governmental authority as in the Central Empires, or voluntary as in France and England. Europe is destined to suffer privations for a long time. Our best efforts will no more than help relieve them.

In spite, however, of this international push and the urge of a world food problem, the situation in the United States is after all a very simple one. It is to find a way to make the standard American supply of cereals, of fats, of sugar, feed a great many more people than it usually does. The regulations prescribed by the food control are simple and easy of application. We are not restricted in quantity, but are asked to substitute as far as possible corn and other meals for wheat, to cut down our consumption of meat, to save sugar, butter and fats. Mr. Hoover thus defines the task which is set before [page 5] America; to provide the Allies with at least 132,000,000 bushels of wheat above our apparent surplus, with twice as much meat as we think we can spare, with three times as much fat as seems available. In order to accomplish this, the plans of the Food Administration are three-fold; first, to so guide the trade in the fundamental food commodities as to eliminate vicious speculation and extortion and wasteful practice and to stabilize the prices in the essential staples.

In the very early days of the war when the first pleas were made to the women responsible for the twenty million kitchens in the United States for a regimen of strenuous economy, there was naturally a tendency to compare what was required in the way of saving from women with what could be accomplished by the producers, the shippers, the packers, and the dealers.

In the early summer I happened to meet an old friend of mine from Richmond, Virginia, who told me of a recent experience on the part of her fellow citizens who were asked to send a thousand boy scouts to the East Shore of Maryland in order to quickly harvest the potato crop. The ladies of Richmond equipped a thousand boys, many of them scouts, at the cost of $1,500.00 and sent them to the East Shore, only to find that because there [page 6] had been a sharp, abrupt drop in the price of potatoes, the farmers on the Eastern Shore had decided not to harvest their potatoes, but to plow them under because it was not worth while to market them. These farmers, of course, misunderstood the situation, as many of us do. It is not primarily a question of saving money or of making money at the present moment; it is a question of producing and conserving food supplies. Since the appointment of the Bureau of Food Administration, such an action as that would be impossible; and the women, now that they are convinced that the producers and ↑Commission men↓ dealers are also being dealt with, are going into the question of economies with good will. Miss Kittredge, a member of the mayor's market committee in the City of New York, every day rescues from the docks vast quantities of food which otherwise would be destroyed because at least 26% of it has spoiled in transit. Ordinarily this food would be dumped into the bay and the producer would have a dead loss, but, of course, 74% of it is perfectly good food, and Miss Kittredge has it transported in the garbage carts which have brought their burden to the docks, back to the basements of various schoolhouses where it is sorted over and utilized perfectly legitimately.

There are other similar things which women are [page 7] doing in addition to careful administration of the kitchens. In your own state, for instance, last spring thousands of women tested the seed corn so that the crop might not be reduced through the planting of dead corn.

The second plan of the Food Administration is "to guard our exports so that against the world shortage we retain sufficient supplies for our own people, and to cooperate with the Allies to prevent inflation of prices." The daily papers are reporting evidence that much in this line is being accomplished.

The third plan is "to stimulate in every way within its power the saving of food in order to increase our exports to our allies; to a point which will enable them to feed their people during the coming winter."

It is under this third heading that the women are asked to sign food pledges. You will be told what to do as conditions change. One potato used universally instead of a slice of bread is many million bushels of wheat a year. A universal corn muffin at breakfast instead of a piece of toast is so many million bushels more. National quotas of sugar and butter are likewise told by the widespread accumulation of small savings. Mr. Hoover further tells us that an autocratic government sets up a food dictator, doles out rations, and issues decrees and bread cards; a democratic government exalts [page 8] self-control and invites cooperation by sending out information and advice. To fail in unity of purpose would be a blow to the methods of Democracy, and if American women fail ↑refuse↓ to respond to this first definite international plea, they will in a sense reveal themselves as unworthy of the admiration extended them by the women of European nations.

↑¶↓ Four- Because the world's food crisis makes a demand so sharp and insistent for women's cooperation, and because I am addressing a federation of club women who are accustomed to look at questions from ↑"↓the larger point of view ↑horizon"↓, I may be permitted to make a very short review of woman's traditional relation to food. Back of history itself are innumerable methods of ↑myths↓ dealing with the Spirits of the Corn who are always feminine and are usually represented by a Corn Mother and her daughter, such as the Greek Demeter and her child Persephone -- the always fostering earth in [contradistinction] to the ↑changing↓ seasons. Relics of the Corn Mother and the Corn Maiden are found in all the harvest fields of Europe from Russia to Portugal, from Ireland to Sicily, with very curious customs surviving everywhere. In many countries the last sheaf is bound in the shape, and even put into the clothes of an old woman. She is taken to the threshing floor and everything is there done to propitiate her, so that there may be a full harvest next year. The [page 9] Corn Mother is also found among many tribes of North American Indians, who treat the maize with great respect and have many legends connected with the rustling sound of the wind in the corn. The Eastern World has its Rice Mother, and solemn ceremonies have been evolved for the gathering of the seed rice which is believed to contain "soul stuff". These deities are always feminine, as is perhaps inevitable from the association with fecundity and growth. Students of primitive society believe that women were the first agriculturists and were for a long time the sole inventors and developers of its processes. The men of the tribe did little for cultivating the soil beyond clearing the space and sometimes surrounding it by a rough protection. The woman has consistently supplied all cereals and roots eaten by the tribe, as the man brought in the game and fish, and the short hoe became as universally emblematic of the woman as the spear did of the man ↑hunter↓, or the shield ↑and battle ax did↓ of the warrior. In some tribes it became a fixed belief that seeds would not grow if planted by a man, and apparently all primitive peoples were convinced that seeds planted would grow best if planted by women. In existing tribes in Central Africa to this day a woman may obtain a divorce from her husband and return to her own father's tribe if the former fails to provide her with a garden and a hoe. [page 10]

The gradual change from the wasteful manner of the Nomadic life to a settled and economic mode of existence may be fairly attributed to these toiling women who before plowing was invented, were the sole cultivators of the soil. Peasant women all over the world are still doing a large part of the work connected with the growing and preparation of foods. One sees them ↑working↓ in the fields ↑in every country↓ of Europe; from Russia to Italy. in Palestine everywhere woman are grinding at the mills; in Egypt carrying the water of the Nile, sometimes for weary miles in order that the food stuff ↑growing grain↓ may not perish.

Those of us who have lived among immigrants realize a certain characteristic ↑which↓ is highly developed among them. It is difficult to describe, and I put it much too baldly, when I call it a certain reverence for food. Food is the precious stuff which men live by, that which is obtained with difficulty at every step in a long and toilsome journey; it is the cherished thing which they have seen come into the house little by little, and often not enough, since they were children, until it has come to have for them almost sacramental quality of life itself. The peasants all over the world are obliged to think about the need of feeding the young if they are to rear families at all. There is among simple people everywhere a revulsion [page 11] against the destruction of food. In the Russian peasant's dread of war, there is a passive resistance to the reduction of the food supply, because he well knows that when a man is fighting he is not producing food, and that he and his family and all the rest of the world may be in danger of starvation. This concern for the common food supply may prove a factor in what I should like to believe is at least the beginning of a new basis for international life. The hope comes to me sometimes that in these dark days when men are being thrown back to their earliest and most primitive experiences, there may be an opportunity to lay over again the old foundations of morality. The instinct to feed those with whom we have made alliances is certainly very similar to that instinct which led the tribe to nurture its own members. If we are forced to exchange food with our alien enemies, it might be analogous to those first interchanges between tribe and tribe, when a shortage of food became the humble beginning of commerce and exchange. Such a conception of international relationship may be sound because it is founded upon genuine experiences with which we are all sharing.

Might it not be possible for the Women's Clubs during this year of food shortage to turn their general programs [page 12] into the same channel? Let the literary and musical departments study the vast movements ↑stores↓ of poetry and song which have gathered about the sowing of the grain and the gathering of the harvest, and those saddest plaints of all expressing the sorrows of famine in Ireland. The art departments will easily begin with Millet and Breton and find that the same subjects have been treated by the great artists everywhere. Let the philosophy and science departments make clear woman's ↑the↓ function ↑of primitive [women]↓ in changing the type of civilization ↑when↓ she ↑steadily↓ refused to move on with the Nomads because her grains and fruits were not yet ripened. The desire to grow food for her children led to a fixed abode and a real home from which our code of domestic morality and customs originated. The ↑Women's↓ Clubs might easily speculate as to whether it might be possible through this new demand upon woman's power for feeding the world, to lay the foundations of ↑a↓ wider domestic morality, as woman's concern for feeding the children long ago laid the foundations for an orderly domestic life. Certainly the opportunity is here to be utilized.

European economists visiting the United States of America are often impressed with the large amount of leisure at the disposal of the middle class of American women. The improved facilities for housekeeping in the way of plumbing, [page 13] lighting, and heating in themselves makes a great difference even if the woman "does her own work". The wives of American workingmen are for the most part relieved of work in the fields and carrying water for long distances which takes hours of time from toiling women all over the world. Would it not be possible for women responding to the tremendous stimulus of the worldwide situation to utilize this leisure and garnered time for a great task? Millions of men all over the world personally sacrificing not only their business and professional prospects, but their very lives, are taking upon themselves the most primitive of muscular labor, digging trenches, and fairly living under ground for the sake of an international cause. May not women also find it possible to go back to their early activities, to begin again, as it were, some of their first functions in society, not as they did then, solely in the interests of her ↑the↓ the family or her tribe, but informed by the knowledge and significance of a world situation.

If we ask what has been done before when there seemed to be too little food in the world, we shall find that the deficiency has always been corrected by the application of human intelligence and human labor to the soil. Every one thousand acres near Paris are cultivated by two thousand people each. If the population of France should [page 14] be doubled, it could be entirely fed from its own soil if it were all thus cultivated.

The soil about Paris is not exceptionally good. It is said that the real French gardener first starts with a piece of asphalt, for he says he then knows what he has for a foundation upon which to make a soil to suit his purpose. He heats his soil with steam pipes and accelerates the growth of his product with electric light. He finds it infinitely easier to grow two hundred thousand pounds of food from one acre than the same amount from ten acres.

We are told that the end of this war will find the world largely in the hands of women; that, in addition to the inevitable disturbance of domestic and social relations due to the preponderance of women in the warring nations, there will be great departments of industry and agriculture permanently left in the hands of women, not only because they performed the temporary work as well as men, but because in certain respects, especially preservation of foods and the intensive agriculture, they may have performed it better than it has ever been done before.

Food, above every other production in the world, responds to individual attention. It is greatly benefitted by being treated in small quantities, and quickly indicates the skill of the manipulator. It is not an accident that the French chef stands at the head of his craft. His treatment [page 15] of food is in line with the way the French deal with all other materials. Paris, in point of fact, has always retained workmanship as the paramount factor in all its industries, the mind and skill of the worker so expressed through the material -- even such slight material as the straw of hats or the jet heads of a fashionable trimming -- that the article obtains almost its sole value thereby.

The experiences of the great war will doubtless leave two phrases in common use -- "before the war" and "after the war" with a very distinct meaning. It may be that one of the changes which we shall see will be less subdivision of labor, which it is quite possible had already gone too far, and more "integration of function" as the economists say, and that as a result of this change, women will take hold of the entire question of foods from an entirely new approach.

[A reording of the last two paragraphs of this page is noted in left margin] This world-wide demand for enough food to nurture the peoples of the earth should evoke earliest response from the modern woman; reinforced by all of woman's traditional experience and motive power.

They are finding that they will be able to utilize all the intellectual treatments ↑resources↓ which they can command. There will be a constant pull upon their power of adaptation and ability to apply knowledge to  actual conditions. [page 16]

It is stated that the toiling mother of a large family is perhaps the most striking example of constant self-sacrifice which can be found ↑in the world.↓ Certainly there is an opportunity to express that virtue is this crisis. A solid basis of self-sacrifice is demanded for the effort; not actual denial of food, -- we are not asked to do that in this country, but the sacrifice of old habits, of following the easiest way for planning a meal, of pleasing the family by giving them what you are sure ↑it is certain↓ they will like. It involves a sacrifice to make a technical study of the situation and of the resources at hand, of what a family may conscientiously use, of what may be done to gradually change their habits, to evoke their interest and sense of participation in a mutual understanding. But a new approach to life, making it more vital and genuine, is the greatest gift which can come to the middle-aged. ↑any of us.↓ It is said that the club woman whose children are married and gone from her has found a splendid outlet for her ripened faculties in club work. Certainly nothing is so bad for us as we grow older as to think that we must sit on a raised dais and live only in the lives of younger people, with no interests of our own. Certainly there is an opportunity here for fresh effort, withal vigorous and helpful. That it will ↑create new joy as well as↓ renew our interest in life was demonstrated to me the other day at Hull House. A very charming little girl stood in [page 17] the doorway of my room holding between her firm little hands a bowl containing corn meal mush which she had made from corn she had helped ↑her mother↓ to raise in a seed ↑city↓ garden ↑plot↓ and had ground it in a coffee mill. The delectable yellow mass was surrounded by syrup ↑also of their own growing↓ ↑for↓ in the same garden patch they had helped grown the beets from which they had ↑extracted↓ made the syrup, and apparently she had found satisfaction for all her faculties in the [processes]. Possibly by returning ↑with the children↓ to simple tasks and pleasures such as these, we may start a new and more reasonable life on this perplexing planet. Food conservation gives us ↑an↓ international outlook and> a new opportunity.

Carefully prepared suggestions and directions can easily be obtained from the Bureau in Washington, and should certainly be found in all of the club headquarters. In

[Addams marked this paragraph with a "?"] ↑In↓ Mr. Hoover's own words, "The call of patriotism, of humanity, of duty, rings clear and insistent; we must meet it if we are to defend our ideals, maintain our form of government, and safeguard our future welfare." [page 18]

↑Given in [Traverse] City Mich. Before [State?] Fed. of W. Clubs Oct 1917↓