During the Second World War, Americans were under mandatory rationing to free up food supply for the American military and Allied nations. But for the men and women abroad, particularly aboard Naval ships where the war came and went as ships stalked each other across oceans, food was plentiful. Naval ships in particular were famous for carrying ice cream on board at all times. For many enlisted men, life in the military provided some of the best meals of their young lives.
The draft had revealed just how deep the deprivations of the Great Depression went. 45% of American men were deemed unfit for military service in 1942. Standards had increased, but bad teeth, poor eyesight, and other defects were blamed at least in part on malnutrition.
Faced with abundant, well-prepared food, many young people went whole hog in the mess hall. But military brass were keenly aware of the sacrifices being made at home, and did their best to prevent food waste. The Navy produced a series of propaganda posters discouraging food waste.
The above poster is among my favorite. In it, a red-faced, mustachioed Naval Captain sits in a dented trash can, arms crossed, glowering. The Chief Petty Officer says, "You were right, Sir! The men do seem a little reluctant to throw food away!" While worried-looking sailors with full mess trays (including chicken legs with just a bite or two out of them) hover by the trash, unsure how to proceed.
The message was clear - troops were not to waste what ordinary Americans had sacrificed to provide for them.
For more from the National Museum of Health BUMED collection, all by the same artist in the same engaging style, see the gallery below.
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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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