From Plenty to Thrift

By Thomas F. Schwartz

World War I food poster.
World War I food poster.

Many families in the United States are fortunate enough to celebrate the holidays with a plethora of food.  At a time of gift-giving and worrying about expanding waistlines, we often forget about the needy and hungry that are right next door.  As hard as it is for adults to remember the needy of the season, it is even harder for children.  When Herbert Hoover headed the United States Food Administration, he undertook a nation-wide public relations campaign to get all Americans to realize the dire need for food in war-ravaged Europe.  As Food Administration posters asserted, “NO ONE NEED BE HUNGRY.”  By eating less wheat bread, sugar, meats, and fats, Americans could meet the need of supplying food to the needy abroad.  He also encouraged a “clean plate club” where children were asked to eat everything on their plate so that no food was wasted.

The promotion soon began to be parodied as witnessed by the following ditty:

My Tuesdays are meatless,

My Wednesdays are wheatless,

I’m getting more eatless each day.

My home,–it is heatless,

My bed,–it is sheetless,

They’re sent to the YMCA.

The bar rooms are treatless,

The coffee is sweetless,

To-day I grow poorer and wiser.

My stockings are feetless,

My trousers are seatless,

My God! How I do hate the Kaiser.

Lou Henry Hoover was a tireless advocate of food conservation and the goals of the Food Administration.  News reporters were particularly interested to see if the Hoover family was living according to the strict standards of food economy set by Herbert Hoover and the US Food Administration.  They were disappointed to learn that Lou did not stray from the strict standards.  Moreover, Lou was more than amused to receive the published account of a young girl in Kansas.  It read: “A little four year old girl in Lawrence [Kansas] is rather delicate, and capricious and notional in her appetite.  Her parents were endeavoring to persuade her to eat the proper things, and in the proper quantities.  If she called for white bread they quoted Mr. Hoover.  When she did not eat all that was on her plate, they invoked Mr. Hoover.  In fact, they worked Mr. Hoover to the limit.  Finally, one night, another difference of opinion arose, and appeal was again made to Mr. Hoover and his requirements.  The little girl had apparently reached the limit of her patience.  Turning to her mother, she said, ‘Mamma, is Mr. Hoover married? Yes, my dear.  Well, you don’t suppose Mrs. Hoover loves him, do you?’

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