Conservation of the World's Food Supply, November 3, 1917

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Our very last hopes and fears have become so internationalized during the last three years and we have grown so accustomed to think in terms of a great world movement that we were not even startled when the head of the new Department of Food Administration in Washington made an appeal to the people of the United States in the name of the food shortage of the entire world, and when he insisted that "the situation is more than war, it is a problem of humanity".

Mr. Hoover himself spent two and a half years in Europe in intimate contact with the backwash of war, when he was responsible for the daily food of seven million women and children. He tells us that the food of the helpless Belgians has now become entirely dependent upon the exertions of the American farmer, and through the destruction of men and ships, 100 million more women and children have come to depend largely for their daily bread upon what can be sent from America -- upon what the farmer may produce and what the women may save.

There is no doubt that many Americans experienced a sense of relief when the situation was at last formulated and when we received an outline of intelligent action for our daily guidance. Many times during the last three years every sympathetic soul in the United States has been horribly oppressed with the consciousness that widespread famine had once more returned to the world.

At moments there seemed to be no spot upon which we could rest our minds with a sense of well being. One recalled the great road from Warsaw to Pinsk -- along which for more than 200 miles a million people were driven in the late summer of 1916 and where almost [page 2] half of them died on the way; [Serbia], where three fourths of a million people out of the total population of three million, had perished miserably since the war began; Armenia, where [in spite] of her heart-breaking history, famine and pestilence have never stalked so unchecked; Palestine, where the old horrors of the Siege of Jerusalem are being revived; and perhaps the crowning horror of all, the so-called "Way of the Cross" -- because it is so easily traced by the continuous crosses raised over the hastily dug graves -- beginning with the Galatian thoroughfares, and stretching south and east for a thousand miles, upon which a distracted peasantry ran breathlessly until stopped by the Caspian Sea, or crossed the Ural Mountains into Asia, and came back again because there was no food there. One of the Hull-House residents, working in the reconstruction movement of the Quakers among the survivors of these most unhappy people, asserts that but for the incredible tenacity of human life, there could be no survivors.

We may divide this hungry world into three groups:

The Central Powers, where in spite of governmental control in the distribution of supplies and the recently acquired grain fields in [Romania] and Asia Minor, food riots are becoming more frequent;

2nd, The European Neutrals, who are all suffering. In Stockholm, for instance, food has increased in cost from 200 to 300 percent, milk and flour cards have been in force for six months.

The 3rd group is the Allied Powers, those nations with whom we have entered into obligations. Today England is ruled by a food controller, everyone is on limited rations, and a proven case of waste is punished by imprisonment. Russia is ↑so↓ suffering from a disorganization of her agricultural life and from lack of transportation facilities that the food problem in Petrograd and Moscow overshadows the great questions of revolution and counter-revolution. France has far less food than she [page 3] needs, and feels acutely the lack of coal. Her very hospitals, full of wounded soldiers, can only be heated for four hours each day, and then most inadequately. Waste of bread or other foodstuffs has been made a crime.

Practically all Europe is living on rations, and is destined to suffer privation for a long time. Our best efforts will no more than relieve them.

The question is, can we, the United States, produce enough for ourselves and enough more to make up their most bitter deficiencies? Our efforts at this moment must be confined to the third group -- to the Allied Powers; but we hope later that they may be legitimately extended to all men, wherever there is need of food. Mr. Hoover assures us that this obligation on the part of the United States to feed Europe is actually independent of any political or military events which may intervene in the immediate future. If the war were to end tomorrow, there still would 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. The Department tells us that this crisis is due first of all to the poor harvest of 1916 in both hemispheres, illustrated 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.

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 [page 4] not feeding others, they themselves must be fed, and fed with more fats and [proteins] than when engaged in their usual civilian occupations. 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 cannot be brought as usual from South America and other remote ports, nor can it be manufactured at the moment in Europe because of the demand for war [materiel]. All the available nitrates, for instance, which are so necessary to the soil, are being used for ammunition. Over one million tons of food-carrying ships have been torpedoed since February 1st of this year, and many remote markets are absolutely isolated or destroyed. Because the journey to France from Australia and India -- both of them exporting wheat countries -- takes three times as long as the journey from North America, it would require three times as many ships to transport the same quantity of grain; furthermore, the American route is best protected. In the present state of insufficient tonnage, and with the constantly diminishing supply of the world's ships, the submarine can be resisted indefinitely only if ships are kept within the Atlantic Seaboard.

Because wheat, next to rice, forms the bulk of the export food of the world, it is held to be first in importance, but the dislocations incident to the war may also be illustrated by sugar, one of the important foods of the world. Before the war France, Italy and Belgium supplied their own needs with a margin for export, but England yearly secured her two million tons largely from Germany, supplementing it from Cuba and other remote ports. Now of course England secures none from Germany; Italy, France and Belgium produce but a third enough for themselves, -- and a distinct problem is [page 5] before us.

In spite, however, of this international urge of a world food problem, the statement of the remedy, so far as it depends upon 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 fat and of sugar, feed a great many more people than it usually does, and to produce more as rapidly as possible. Mr. Hoover thus defines the task which is set before 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. He tells us that an autocratic government sets up a food dictator, doles out rations, and issues decrees and bread cards; a democratic government exalts self-control and invites [cooperation] by sending out information and advice. To fail to respond, to misunderstand the purposes, would be therefore a blow to the methods of democracy.

The Department of Food Administration as finally constituted, has been given adequate power to obtain these ends, and since the first of July has been steadily carrying out certain comprehensive plans.

It is the obvious duty of the Department "to so guard our exports that against a world shortage, we retain sufficient supplies for our own people, and to [cooperate] with the Allies to prevent inflation of prices". This means a control against hoarding food, against manipulating the market, and against profiteering generally. Earlier in the war, when the Allied Governments [page 6] bought large consignments of American supplies home prices were often forced up, and actual food shortage resulted in the United States. Certainly, essential foods need stabilizing. Taking as a basis the retail prices for five years before the war, flour and potatoes have increased 110 percent, sugar 53 percent, and so on, making a total average of 47½ percent in the farm foods, while wages, [although] efforts have been made to raise them, have increased on an average only 25 percent. The Food Administration has already established a fair price for wheat. As you know, $2.20 a bushel has been fixed for this year's crop, and $2. for the crop of 1918, which is to be paid irrespective of the ending of the war. A great Food-Administration Corn-Corporation and a [Cooperative] Food Administration Milling Division have been formed to control the entire handling, purchase, sale, distribution and export of the wheat. The Food Administration has also established a division of Research into Nutritive Values, a Transportation Division, one of Labor, one of Imports, Exports and Embargo.

As I am from Chicago, I may be permitted to illustrate from the Stock Yards. Under these latter divisions, the Department has lately instituted a control over the products in such packing centers -- Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, South Omaha, Fort Worth. The President, combining the order of Congress with certain orders of his own, sent the Federal Trade investigators into the field in July 1917, charged with finding the cost of meat; the relations of the packers to affiliated enterprises; the location of any evidence of unfair competition. The staff [page 7] was made up of accountants and economists. They carefully followed the processes from the farm to the consumer -- which were essentially as follows:

1. The animal is brought into the world under the auspices of the "Breeder".

2. He is shipped to the "Feeder" for fattening.

3. The Feeder consigns him to a Commission man at one of the packing centers, to which he is sent on special cattle trains and placed in pens rented from the Stock Yards companies.

4. To the pens come the buyers of the packers, and when the trade is made, the Commission man, securing his money in cash, remits to the Feeder, less commissions, while the buyer transfers the animal to the killing floor.

5. Here the animal is turned into dressed meat and some hundreds of other things -- by-products and specialties.

6. The dressed meat is loaded on to refrigeration cars and sent to the uttermost ends of the earth -- usually to some Branch House of the packer.

7. The Branch House sells the meat to the Retailer.

8. The Retailer sells to the Consumer.

The Department realized that the Stock Yards are the points of the industry's maximum concentration. They are the "neck of the bottle". From every state in the country, live animals feed in to these narrow openings, are slaughtered, made into products, and then are sent out again all over the world. Because of this it has been held that Government control of stock yards would effect a virtual control over the entire meat [page 8] meat industry.

The official licensing of the packers went into effect November 1, 1917. Under the provisions of the law, the Food Administration undertakes to stabilize the price of live stock -- particularly hogs; to limit the profits of the packers to a reasonable return on capital; to control all export and army shipments made by the packers. The profit-limitation provision is a new thing in American economic history, and this first establishment of the principle of profit regulation is of tremendous importance.

It is doubtful if the Food Administration will materially decrease the cost of meat. What they will do is to preserve the supply, particularly of live animals on the farms, which lately have been decreasing at an alarming rate due to the uncertainty of stock yard prices; in fact, the live animal population has been declining per capita of the human population, for 20 years. This has doubtless been due to the increasing cost of land combined with extravagant methods of distribution.

A further effect of both the Federal Trade report and the Food Administration control will be the establishment of publicity, which the public will doubtless continue to demand even after the war. The Government moreover will probably preserve a uniform accounting system for all packers after the fashion in which the Interstate Commerce Commission laid out one for the Railroads.

Concentration of an industry such as the stock yards [page 9] represent, eliminates enormous wastes, and by understandings in regard to territory, etc., the conniving packers have saved vast sums that otherwise would have been sunk in competitive equipment. Monopoly is an inevitable economic phenomenon, and is to be welcomed in most instances, provided the public gains the savings of monopoly. When the monopolist pockets all the savings, even if he does not raise the price of the product, the condition cannot long be tolerated. This is said to be precisely the position of the packers. They have not raised prices exorbitantly, have indeed held them under what they would have been in a free, competitive -- and therefore wasteful -- market; but they have piled up huge profits which as yet they have not shared to any appreciable extent either with their employees or the public.

Through this newly established control the Department of Food Administration will see that the Allies are fed; that the Army is fed; and they will endeavor to lower the price to the domestic population if possible.

The plan of the Food Administration 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 necessary to point out how each household, each public eating place, and each individual consumer, can actually conserve food. The details center about three general propositions. First, elimination of waste. That which we have learned from our mothers and grandmothers, but sometimes forget to apply. Second, substitution of [page 10] certain foods for others, such as corn for wheat, poultry for beef and pork, etc. Third, an actual lessening of unnecessary consumption, the giving up of afternoon teas and late suppers, or of too much food even at regular meals. It is under this heading that the women are asked to sign food pledges and are told what to do as conditions change. A potato universally substituted for one slice of bread a day, equals one million loaves a day, or 365 million loaves a year. One pat of butter saved, weighing half an ounce, means 114 million pounds a year. One-half cup of milk, equals the product of almost half a million cows. All these figures are based on the assumption that 22 million kitchens are universally carrying out the rules.

The instructions as to the proper substitutes is one of the most important undertakings of the Department. During the last 25 years we have all become familiar with the diagnosis and cure of disease. [Rickets] and other ills due to malnutrition are disappearing among children of the well-to-do. A public institution is almost as much disgraced by a high percentage of tuberculosis as by the prevalence of scurvy. A city milk supply may become a vital issue in a municipal campaign. The public therefore has developed a new sensitiveness in regard to foods. Partly because of this, and partly owing to the long discussion in Congress antedating the appointment of a Food Administration, the substitution and saving campaigns on the part of women were the first plans to be pressed. There was naturally a tendency on their part to compare what was required in the way of saving from women, with what could be accomplished by the producers, [page 11] 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., and sent them to the Eastern Shore, only to find that because there 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 the Commission men 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 percent 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 percent 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 [page 12] various school houses where it is sorted over and utilized perfectly legitimately.

There are other similar things which women are doing in addition to careful administration of the kitchens. In Michigan, 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. I suppose every farmer thinks he does this testing every year, but I venture to predict that there was never such thorough testing as in Michigan last spring.

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 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, and he finds it infinitely easier to grow two hundred thousand pounds of food from one acre than the same amount from ten acres.

In response to the demands made in the United States last spring, two million back yards and vacant lot gardens were established in 1917, and the first war crop of potatoes was [page 13] 452 million bushels -- an increase of 100 million bushels over the previous year. Since the war began, England has placed a million and a half average of hitherto idle land into the production of wheat and potatoes, a hundred thousand women have gone into agricultural work, and the nation has reduced its habitual consumption of bread by 25 percent.

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 care-taker. It is quite possible that the American farmer has been tilling too much land and that a more intensive method would actually produce more food; that we need "integration of function", as the economists say, and that if such a change ever takes place America will make an entirely new approach to the food situation, and be much benefitted thereby.

But before we can have any reforms in farming or saving, we must have an accurate knowledge of existing conditions and expenditures. Sweden holds the world's record for longevity and for dietetics, for the control of alcohol, for social hygiene, because for 150 years she has carefully recorded the diseases responsible for premature death; the Taylor system for increasing efficiency can only be introduced into a factory after the most careful estimates are made of existing conditions. There is no doubt that every woman who wishes to do her bit in the national saving plan should begin by keeping a record of the amount and the cost of what she is actually feeding to her family day by day. Of what use to tell the 22 million housewives that [page 14] if they each save a pound of flour a week, by that alone we would secure the 150 million bushels of wheat required by the Allies, if the women do not consciously know how many pounds they are using? It is like telling the brewers that if the grain they use were saved and mixed with wheat flour, the United States could supply 11 million one-pound loaves every day, enough for the English and French armies, if the brewers refuse to divulge the amount they are now using?

Those of us who have lived among immigrants realize that there is highly developed among them a certain reverence for food. Food is the precious stuff which men live by, that which is obtained only after long and toilsome labor; it is the cherished thing which the poor have seen come into their homes little by little and often not enough, since they were children, until to waste it has come to seem sinful and irreligious. In the Russian peasant's dread of war, there is doubtless 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 eventually his family and nation will face starvation. The obligation to feed his own family, to be concerned for the welfare of his neighbors, has become the very foundation of his morality. It is possible that it is this very same sense of moral obligation -- tribal in its origin -- which is at present being enlarged in the United States. The instinct to feed those with whom we have made alliances certainly bears an enlarged similarity to that instinct which led the tribe to nurture its own members. If we are forced to exchange food with our "alien enemies", [page 15] 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.

There are unexpected turnings in the paths of moral evolution, and it would not be without precedent if in these war years, so destructive of the old codes, the nations were obliged to begin again, as it were, -- to go humbly back to their primitive function of producing and conserving foods, of feeding the helpless, and through them once more we might stabilize the restless, ambitious nature of man and establish a center of gravity out of his protective instincts. On trains, in hotel lobbies, since this war began, one occasionally hears business men talk together with quite a new timbre in their voices -- a domestic quality, as it were -- betraying the sense of responsibility for the needs of the nation and of her allies, which for long years they have reserved only for their own families, except in moment of reform campaigns, when they have extended this concern to the improvement of their own cities.

It is not impossible that this vivid concern for the food resources of the world and for the feeding of its children may eventually result in new political aims, which in turn may easily bring about a revolution in international relationships. Under such a new standard of measurement, preferential tariffs would disappear if the people denied the open door suffered thereby; the exploitation of inferior races would be forbidden because the unaccustomed labor and the appropriation of their normal food supplies resulted in their starvation, as 10 million of them have [page 16] already been exterminated in Africa; the control of strategic water-ways or inter-state railroad lines by any one nation who might be tempted to consider only the interest of its own commerce, would be unthinkable; all that then would be necessary to secure the internationalization of the [Strait] of [Bosporus] would be a demonstration of the dependence of Western Europe upon Russian wheat, which is now exported so capriciously; the international building and control of a railroad connecting Central Europe with Bagdad would depend upon the demonstration that Mesopotamia could be made one of the most fertile spots in the entire world by the simple restoration of the canals in the valley of the Euphrates which one so easily fed the entire race cradled in its capacious plains. [page 17]

Because the world's food crisis makes a demand so sharp and instant for women's [cooperation], I may be permitted to make a very short review of woman's traditional relation to food. Back of history itself are innumerable 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, who represented the always fostering Earth and her child Persephone who symbolized the changing seasons. Relics of the Corn Mother and the Corn Maiden are found in nearly all the harvest fields of the world, with very curious old customs. 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 please her. She is offered all the food and drink of the harvest home supper, so that there may be a full harvest next year. The Corn Mother is also found among many tribes of North American Indians who, because of her, treat the maize with great respect. 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 natural from the association with fecundity and growth.

Closely related to these old goddesses is much of the 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 pictures of Millet with their wonderful portrayal of the charm of peasant life in spite of [page 18] have their counterpart in the art of many nations. As so often occurs, these myths centering about the Corn Mother have dimly foreshadowed what careful scientific researches later verified and developed. 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 in early picture writing the short hoe became as universally emblematic of the woman as the spear did of the hunter or the shield and battle axe 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 would grow much better if planted by women. In central Africa to this day a woman may obtain a divorce from her husband and return to her father's tribe, if the former fails to provide her with a garden and a hoe.

The widespread myth of the fostering mother also had its counterpart in the world of morals. The students of the origin of social customs contend that the gradual change from the wasteful manner of nomadic life to a settled and much more economic mode of existence may be fairly attributed to these toiling women who, before plowing was invented, were the sole cultivators of the soil. We can easily imagine that when the hunting was poor or when the flocks needed a new pasture, that [page 19] the men of the tribe would be for moving on, but that the women might insist that they could not possibly go until the grain had ripened and was garnered, and that, after that harvest with the winter coming on, the tribe might be induced to remain in the same old caves or huts, and that the women might even timidly hope that they could use the same fields next year. The desire to grow food for her children led to a fixed abode and a real home from which our domestic morality and customs are supposed to have originated. With such an historic background, it is perhaps not surprising that 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 in the fields in every country in Europe; by every roadside in Palestine they are grinding at the hand mills; in Egypt they are forever carrying the water of the Nile that the growing corn may not perish. American women -- even the wives of ill-paid working men -- and the pioneer women on remote ranches -- have been relieved of much of this primitive drudgery, if only through the invention of machinery applied to industry and agriculture, and the water pipes found on the farm as well as in the city. The American woman is not, however, relieved of her responsibilities, and many a club woman at least uses this leisure, at which the European visitor never ceases to marvel, to make herself intelligent in regard to the artistic and scientific aspects of her household task. With such a foundation of study and enlarged interest, she has been perhaps prepared to enlarge her sense of duty to include the consciousness of the world needs in her daily activities. [page 20]

In the midst of these dark days of war there is developing in the world a new sense of obligation, a concern for the common food supply. I should like to believe that it is at least the beginning of another basis for international life and that it may afford an opportunity to lay over again the old foundations of morality, as woman's concern for feeding her children made the beginning of an orderly domestic life.

The women responsible for these 22 millions of kitchens are asked to change some old habits, to modify their accustomed ways of       and households, to make a technical study of resources at hand, of what a family may conscientiously use, of what may be done to evoke their interest and sense of participation in a mutual understanding. That much may be achieved in this direction and that it may be an opportunity to [cooperate] with the children, was demonstrated to me the other day at Hull-House. A very charming little girl stood in 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 city garden plot and had later ground 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 grown the beets from which they had made this syrup. Apparently they had found satisfaction for all their faculties in these 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.