Background of Vegetarianism in WWI

"We are saving you, you save food"

Canadian rationing poster from WWI encouraging citizens to save food for the troops (from Library of Congress).

How was the dietary trend of vegetarianism affected by The Great War?

Near the end of World War I in 1917-1918, rationing was introduced in Great Britain and the United States in order to maintain a secure and abundant food supply for their troops. In 1917, Herbert Hoover (then the head of the U.S. Food Administration), developed a voluntary rationing program that utilized propaganda to urge citizens to consume less meat, fats, wheat, and sugar in order to help feed their troops and allies abroad. Slogans such as "Food will win the war" and "Meatless Tuesdays" aided this campaign (History Channel).

In Britain, common ingredients such as sugar, meat, butter/margarine, and milk could only be purchased with special ration cards implemented by the government in 1918. All classes of society were constrained by these ration cards and any attempts to cheat the law resulted in fines or even a prison sentence. This encouraged many to grow vegetables in their own gardens to have more food for consumption (BBC Bitesize).

This exhibit provides a broad look of how restaurants were impacted by the war, specifically if vegetarian dishes became more prevalent with the increased consumption of foodstuffs by the troops. 

Why vegetarianism? 

We decided to focus on vegetarianism due to the current prevalence of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan meal options on restaurant menus. Deciding to work backwards temporally in a sense, we wanted to see when vegetarian options first appeared on restaurant menus and what vegetarian dishes were like in the past. This led to a wide temporal scope and an abundance of data that would be difficult to sort through within one academic quarter, so we focused on the years of World War I, as rationing is an interesting variable to study in the overall trend of vegetarian diets.