“Wheatless Wednesday” was just as critical to World War I food conservation as “Meatless Monday.” Apparently, by World War II, the U.S. had a grip on wheat production and it was not included in the food rationing program. Along with “Meatless Monday,” “Wheatless Wednesday” seems to be making a comeback.
A previous post covered “Meatless Monday” so we’ll look at “Wheatless Wednesday” in this one.
Wheatless Wednesday during World War I
During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration (USFA) administered the “Food Will Win the War” campaign that asked Americans to voluntarily restrict their use of certain foods like wheat, beef, pork, sugar, dairy products, and fats. People were also urged to not hoard or waste food.
In addition to “Wheatless Wednesday,” people were asked to not eat wheat on Monday and for one meal the rest of the days of the week. People were not necessarily asked to do without bread but to use less wheat flour, thus Victory Bread made with 20% non-wheat ingredients was born. Americans were asked to cut down on wheat consumption by 25%.
By cutting back on wheat flour for 1 year, the United States was able to ship 120 million bushels to Europe (6 times the usual amount).
U.S. Food Administration (USFA)
Buying and Selling Wheat
The U.S. Food Administration Grain Corporation was formed to establish fair prices, and buy and sell wheat and other cereal commodities. They operated without profit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Grain Standards Act established standardized wheat grade definitions. Pricing considerations included the distance from consuming market, variety of wheat, and relative value for making flour.
The U.S. Food Administration (USFA) published and distributed a lot of printed material. One such publication, WAR ECONOMY in FOOD with Suggestions and Recipes for SUBSTITUTIONS in the PLANNING of MEALS, reads like part propaganda and part useful information.
- It began with The President’s Call to the Women of the Nation to “do their part.”
- The next page contained a pledge card to enable those responsible for food in the household to become members of the USFA by pledging to carry out USFA directions and advice. Members received a Membership Window Card to display in their home.
- The bulk of the 30-page pamphlet contained messages about the food situation and why food needed to be conserved, substitution suggestions, meal planning ideas, recipes, buying tips, and a table of weights and measures.
Professional home economists from the USFA were essential to the success of American food conservation during World War I. They created recipes and menus to help home cooks (mostly women) adapt to food conservation, substitutions, and minimizing waste.
As for wheat, these creative women developed recipes for bread, muffins, biscuits, griddle cakes, quick bread, and cakes made with non-wheat ingredients that included corn, barley, buckwheat, oats, rye (for a time), potatoes, and even peanut butter. For example, a recipe for War Cake contained no wheat flour, butter, eggs, or milk.
Wheatless Wednesday in the 21st Century
Type “Wheatless Wednesday” in your Internet web browser and most of the initial pages of results will be websites and blogs offering gluten-free recipes, food products, or dining options.
Gluten is a protein present in cereal grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. These grains are used in bread, pasta, processed foods, medicines, and cosmetics. Gluten is responsible for the elastic texture of dough that helps bread rise and keep its shape.
According to a WebMD feature entitled “Going Gluten-Free,” about 1% of the population has celiac disease (an intolerance to gluten), and 10% may be gluten-reactive (some sensitivity to gluten).
Gluten-free alternatives to grains include brown rice flour, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and oats to name a few.
A companion to gluten-free is anti-wheat. This appears to be related to concerns about wheat’s glycemic index and that raises blood sugar (although this is true of all carbohydrates) which might lead to inflammation and weight gain. Some suggest cutting wheat out altogether while others recommend a more moderate approach of eating more whole wheat and less highly refined products like white bread.
In the 21st century, “Wheatless Wednesday” has left it’s war roots behind and migrated to “Gluten Free” and “Anti-Wheat” days, recipes, products, and menu items.
Perhaps instead of “Wheatless Wednesday” we might look at wheat in a more positive light and go with something like “Whole Wheat Wednesday”.
- CBC News – Why are we waging a war on wheat?
- Cornell University Library – Meatless Monday, Wheatless Wednesdays: Home Economists in World War I
- National Archives – Records of the U.S. Grain Corporation [USGC]
- New York Times – How Wheat Was Saved to Feed Allied Folk (link inactive Apr 2019)
- WebMD – Going Gluten-Free: What to know about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and gluten-free diets
- Wikipedia – Food and Fuel Control Act
- Wikipedia – U.S. Food Administration (USFA)
- Wikipedia – Rationing