Podcast Critique: War, Nutritionism, and the Great Depression
The Great Depression was a period of low business activity in the United States and other countries which began with the stock market crash in 1929. Although the food industry flourished, it was greatly affected by World War I, the aftermath of World War I, and the Great Depression.
In the beginning of the podcast episode, the Great Courses describes how the food industry was affected in the United States during World War I. During World War I, the food industry changed drastically due to Herbert Hoover's plan to export food to the Allies. The textbook America: A Narrative History states “By the spring of 1915, the Allied Powers' need for food and supplies had generated an economic windfall for American businesses, bankers, and farmers” (Shi and Tindall, p. 822). To clarify, the Allied Powers'- Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States- needed food and supplies which sparked an increase in farming and big business. Belgium was highly dependent on imports for food and German troops would eat everything they could get their hands on in Belgium which meant that Belgium would eventually starve to death. However, the podcast states “Herbert Hoover convinced Germans that since the United States was neutral, he should be allowed to send food into Belgium.” meaning Hoover was able to convince Germany and Britain to allow him to provide food for Belgium (00:04:48-00:04:53). Hoover also advocated food conservation- also known as hooverizing- to provide troops with surplus food such as wheat and beef. The growth of the food industry during World War I was mainly due to Hoover's efforts to help the Allied Powers' and Central Powers.
In addition, the podcast episode War, Nutritionism, and the Great Depression discusses the expansion of the food industry after World War I. During World War I, Herbert Hoover promoted food conservation- wheatless monday and meatless tuesday- so that there would be a surplus amount of food to sent to the soldiers and the allies during the war. When the war ended, Hoover wanted to continue this aid, even to the Germans, leading to food care packages being sent to Europe and Bolshevik, Russia. The podcast states “After the war, food industries simply marketed their food to civilians” causing an expansion in the food industry across the United States (00:08:45-00:08:57). Food industries would market foods that were originally for the war- army rations in cans- with the idea of convenience. Because many people began working outside of their home, quick and easy became a serious marketing angle for food industries. For example, food industries began packaging their food into smaller units so that civilians could buy their food for an entire week instead of going back to the store multiple times a week. Also, processed food became more sanitary since it could sit on shelves for multiple weeks unlike fresh foods allowing civilians to go shopping once a week. Further, the podcast mentions “Supermarkets began to buy out smaller operations. They can buy produce and meat at much lower prices” (00:13:46-00:13:51). Because big supermarkets bought out small shops, convenience came to an end for civilians. Small shops around the city made it easy for civilians to stop by after work to get there groceries everyday or get to know their vendors on a more personal level allowing them to get a more personal service. The postwar period had a drastic effect on the food industry starting with the marketing of “war food” to civilians.
Lastly, the podcast reveals ways in which the Great Depression impacted the food industry. The podcast states “The Great Depression forced the government to become more involved in the food supply in more ways than it has ever been before through Roosevelt's New Deal- series of emergency measures to deal with the Great Depression” (00:29:00-00:29:19). The government created the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the Farm Credit Act in order to control the food supply. The textbook America: A Narrative History states “The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1993 created a new federal agency, AAA, which sought to raise the prices for crops and herds by paying farmers to cut back on production” (Shi and Tindall, p. 926). The Agricultural Adjustment Administration paid farmers to reduce their acreage to prevent prices from falling even more. The Farm Credit Act (FCA) helped farmers refinance their mortgages or farmers would be lent money so they could hold onto their crops until the prices improved. In addition, the Great Depression led to the construction of soup kitchens in all major cities along with the creation of food stamps which low income families would use in place of money. The addition of food stamps and soup kitchens ensured that more people were either eating the food distributed by the government or buying food from grocery stores. Although one may assume that the Great Depression would cause a downfall in the food industry, the food industry actually flourished through the Great Depression due to the increase of cheaper, more economic, more convenient food.
The podcast episode War, Nutritionism, and the Great Depression furthered my understanding of the food industry and reflected on themes that were explored in class such as World War I and the Great Depression. The informative tone of the podcast challenged the idea that the Great Depression caused a downfall in the food industry. Overall, the podcast discusses the growth of the food industry from World War I to the Great Depression which relates to ideas that are still present today such as food stamps, refrigerators, and soup kitchens.
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