Tuesday, June 11

Kitchen to Classroom: Eating in the Archives, Part 2

Kitchen to Classroom is a weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. We'll miss Jill when she moves on next month—she has accepted a position as an assistant professor of history at Minnesota State University-Mankato. We look forward to welcoming our 2013–2014 postdoctoral fellow, Zac Henson, at the end of the summer. 

Click here to read "Eating in the Archives, Part I."

This second post on researching food history focuses on documents at the National Archives location near Atlanta. You may be familiar with the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. There, tourists can view the original Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights. What you may not know is that the building housing our nation’s founding documents is only one of the many locations maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The NARA facility in Morrow, Georgia—located just a few miles south of Atlanta—houses federal records from eight southeastern states. A few years ago, I went to Morrow to research food conservation in Alabama during World War I. Afraid of shortages when the nation entered the war in April 1917, Congress passed the Lever Food Control Act. Among other things, the Act created the United States Food Administration to regulate the nation’s food supply. The records of this wartime agency provide insight into how food became a way for America’s civilians to fight the war on the home front.

The Food Administration used posters and public education campaigns appealing to American patriotism to encourage food conservation. NARA maintains records of these efforts in Alabama at its Morrow location. In one document, Alabama Governor Charles Henderson issued a proclamation declaring the last week of October as “Food Registration Week.” Considering the important role that women played in preparing and serving food, Henderson requested that housewives sign a pledge to avoid waste.
A Food Administration project in Mobile, Alabama, 1918.

The state records include correspondence between Richard M. Hobbie, U.S. Food Administrator for the state of Alabama, and Mary Feminear, the state’s Home Demonstration Agent, discussing the accomplishments of Alabama’s women. Feminear reported that schools across the state held classes to educate women in gardening, bee keeping, animal husbandry, and food preservation. Alabama also participated in “wheatless” and “meatless” days. Smith’s Bakery in Mobile encouraged wheatless meals by sponsoring a Victory Bread recipe contest. Victory Bread included any loaf prepared with a wheat substitute, such as corn, rice, or potato flour.

Click to enlarge.

In one of the more interesting documents, the Ku Klux Klan forwarded a letter to the Food Administration accusing a Gadsden man of hoarding flour and sugar. (Did you know that the Klan had letterhead?) Federal and state propaganda described such stockpiling as unpatriotic. The Klan gave state officials this ominous warning: “If some one does not look after [this case of hoarding], then we will have to make him a visit.” The Klan re-emerged during World War I as a xenophobic and racist organization with a great deal of power in Alabama politics. This letter reveals how the Klan made political use of food conservation efforts to express its hyper-nationalist views.