I ran across this little political cartoon when researching for my book Preserve or Perish, which is about food in New York during the First World War. I also study wedding food traditions, so of course when I saw this, I cracked up.
A wedding party is gathered at the altar, and everyone is turning to look at the best man, who is rushing up to the altar waving a piece of paper. The caption reads, "BEST MAN: 'Hooray! I've got written permission from the Food Controller to throw ten grains of rice after them.'" Although the New York Public Library doesn't list what newspaper or magazine it is from, it is dated as August, 1918.
The cartoon is hilarious for a number of reasons, but the primary one is that it is a gross exaggeration of the level of food control in the United States during the First World War. With the exception of sugar toward the end of the war, mandatory rationing was never put into place for ordinary Americans. Only food producers and retailers had restrictions placed on them. On potential exemption from that (besides sugar) was the requirement that all customers had to buy two units of non-wheat grains or flours for every one unit of wheat they purchased. For example, by purchasing one pound white wheat flour, a shopper would be required to purchase an additional two pounds of some other grain (they could mix and match) such as cornmeal, rye flour, barley flour, rice, or oatmeal.
Rice, however, was never rationed. In fact, although it was not as widely available as cornmeal, it was touted as a wheat substitute. But political cartoons are all about taking things to extremes, so the joke is that food is so heavily "controlled" that even a few grains of rice must have permission to be thrown away. Which also fits into the propaganda around wasting food that was prevalent at the time.
The other interesting, although not particularly hilarious, commentary of this cartoon is that this is clearly a fairly wealthy family. Then men are wearing morning coats with tails and spats on their shoes. The bridesmaids are in matching outfits. The bride has a very long veil and there are flowers and greenery galore. It indicates that even the wealthiest Americans could not escape the reach of the "Food Controller" - a.k.a. Herbert Hoover, Federal Food Administrator (a term he vastly preferred to "controller" or even the popular-in-the-press "dictator," which did not have quite the same meaning then as it does now).
The early 20th century was when marriage traditions were starting to solidify as weddings became more formal, public affairs. Throwing rice at the couple at the end of the wedding was one of those "traditions" at this point. Along with a white dress, flower bouquet, white bride's cake to eat at the breakfast (yeah, they were still breakfasts at this point, although luncheons and teas were becoming more common) and spice/fruitcake groom's cake to take some as a favor.
In all, it's a cute-but-biting commentary on food control during the First World War. And it made me laugh, so I had to share.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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