Fields of Plenty and Lives of Want: Pan-American Food Production during the Great War

Monday, January 5, 2015: 8:30 AM
Gramercy Suite B (New York Hilton)
Tait Keller, Rhodes College
This examines the rise of home gardening across the Americas during the First World War. Much attention has been paid to the expansion of industrialized agriculture in North America to meet the European demand for food during this time. What this narrative overlooks, however, is how small-scale family gardening and home food production in the United States, Brazil, and Cuba—late arrivals to the conflict—made large exports feasible. The United States' entry into the war created a ripple effect in food production throughout Latin America. By analyzing materials from the US Food Administration and the National War Garden Commission, the Brazilian Commission of Public Alimentation, and the Cuban Subsistence Board and the Council of National Defense, this paper argues that even as the war expanded patterns of environmental exploitation, it also set standards for nature conservation. These agencies published numerous pamphlets with advice and instructions for amateur gardeners and encouraged the cultivation of gardens everywhere, including backyards, schools grounds, and city parks. Patriotic pressure induced private citizens, be they owners of the great sugar centrals or their poor tenants (colonos), to plant "war gardens." Propaganda campaigns emphasized the importance of canning perishables, consuming local produce, and preserving natural resources -- while also militarizing life in the private home to an unprecedented degree.
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