The Civil War was a remarkable incident in American history
When looking at our current, global lifestyle, it is not difficult to point at the event that triggered our international movement toward modernity. World War II, purposefully and inadvertently, brought us modern government, war, attitudes, medicine, and technological advancements. Aside from medicine, one facet of our lifestyle changed drastically during and after WWII: the way we eat. In the first third of the twentieth century, the farming, distribution, preservation, and preparation of food evolved more than the entire nineteenth century. Why is that? Well, the size and global scale of WWII was too much for the food industry to maintain at status quo. There were too many men drafted, too many people to feed overseas, and too many families with no stay-at-home parent to feed a nation or nations.
Food had to evolve, and with that evolution came industrial farming at a scale we’ve never seen before, mass food preservation through canning, and a technical revolution in the kitchen. Here are some of the biggest changes that were instituted by WWII.
Perishable items were no longer the norm. Fresh fruits and vegetables, while important to the human diet, were almost removed completely due to the lack of localized farming. Industrial farming attempted to overcome the increased demand, but there was simply too much. The result was a surge in the production of high-energy foods like processed cheese, canned meat, canned fish, processed milk, and high fat/high oil foods.
Home cooking became rare. First of all, a large portion of women had to rely on packaged food to feed families because they had to work long hours for little pay (their “civic duty”). Secondly, the task became more and more difficult. Take sugar, for example. Home baking became nearly non-existent since commercial bakeries needed the sugar to make processed cakes (Twinkies) that would be sent to the troops. So, an entire generation of children grew up on pre-packaged, preservative-laden cakes as opposed to their mothers’ homemade desserts.
Over-farming became a problem. Red meat was considered a man’s food. No meal was considered complete without a steak. So, Americans at home had to do without quality cuts of meat since the majority of quality beef were shipped overseas to the troops. Americans at home had to deal with cheaper cuts of pork, chicken, and even cheaper cuts of beef (typically reserved for pet food). The beginnings of deadly pork bacteria started because pork was a more affordable meat and thus was over-farmed. Also, we welcomed very cheap cuts of beef into our diet in the form of “pre-ground” hamburger meat. So, the American love for hamburgers began.
Chef Boyardee started a food revolution. In Cleveland, Ohio, the already famous Chef Boiardi was selling his pasta and sauce by the hatful (literally – people would fill their hats and purses). In the spirit of no-food-waste-in-America, Boiardi started to can the pasta and meat sauce and ship it overseas. The beginning of canned, ready-to-eat meals took the country by storm with an entire population of men coming home from war and craving Chef Boyardee pasta.