Americans felt the pinch of the Great War most acutely around the dinner table. Supplying European allies with meat, wheat, and corn resulted in government-imposed rationing of these staples and prompted massive campaigns to implement new methods of food production, conservation, and preservation. Advocating voluntary cooperation, what some scholars have called “coercive volunteerism,” the Committee on Public Information’s army of poster artists visualized the new era of self-sacrifice as a patriotic necessity to defeat autocracy. In less than subtle ways, slogans such as “Food will win the war!” and “Can the Kaiser” involved all Americans in the war effort.

Millions of men, women, and children signed pledges committing themselves to conservation and thrift; dedicated themselves to “Meatless Tuesdays,” and “Fats-Free Fridays”; and put millions of “Victory Gardens” to work harvesting fruits, vegetables, and poultry to supplement meager supplies. While not without controversy the messages contained in over 10 million posters printed and distributed over 585 days of American involvement in WWI affected the lives of every American. Even before formal entrance into the First World War in April 1917, Americans understood they played a role in helping to feed the people of Allied nations and their soldiers. America already supplied over half of the world’s corn and a quarter of its wheat.  Desperate shortages especially in France and England demanded America help to feed its allies abroad prompting the need to conserve at home. To generate support among Americans who did not see themselves as direct participants in the war, the United States Food Administration called upon all Americans to sign pledge cards testifying to their commitment to conserve food. Slogans such as “Food will win the war” dominated the official message on food. Over 20 million Americans signed pledge cards and committed to a schedule that called for wheatless Mondays, meatless Tuesdays, fats-free Fridays, and porkless Saturdays. In the spirit of self-sacrifice, schoolchildren joined their parents’ efforts by signing a pledge stating: “At the table I'll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I’ll not eat between meals. But for supper time I’ll wait”.[1]

  [1]George Creel, How We Advertised America.  (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1920), 133.