I received an exceptionally terrific gift this weekend: my great-grandmother’s canning book from 1942. I knew that my aunt would be sending it to me and I was so excited to forge a relationship with the great-grandmother I never knew by following the same recipes that she had used so many years ago. What is even more wonderful about this gift is that each generation since the original purchase has followed this book. I have a direct line to the women who came before me through this book. For me, that is powerful.
I made even more connections as I perused this book. Although I didn’t realize it when my aunt was describing the book to me, when I had it in my hands I realized that this book was designed as war-time promotional material (I don’t want to use the term “propaganda” because it conjures up images of Nazi Germany when I hear it.). The very first page reads as follows:
Food For Victory
The Need of the Hour
In the recent NATIONAL NUTRITION CONFERENCE, a challenge was given to every one of the 28 million homemakers of America in the following recommendation:
“It is VITAL for the UNITED STATES to make IMMEDIATE USE of the newer knowledge of NUTRITION in the present NATIONAL EMERGENCY. To neglect this would be as hazardous as to neglect military preparedness.”
What YOU Can Do
It is the sacred duty of every AMERICAN woman to see that her family is properly fed – to make Americans the strongest, healthiest people in the world…
Those are some powerful words! Although this particular page can lead us down the road of debating about the experience of women throughout history, I want to focus on the main message of nutrition. In ALL my life I have never come across such a powerful message about the need for the primary caregiver to assure the health of the family. This book frames good nutrition akin to NATIONAL SECURITY. Essentially, “if you don’t feed your family well, they will be weak and the commies will take over.” There is some truth in that completely outlandish statement, but it is mostly inaccurate. However, I am especially interested in the idea that personal good nutrition is a benefit to the entire nation. That’s a BIG idea.
Today, we hear a wide variety of messages in regard to nutrition that speak almost completely to the individual: Don’t over-eat because you will be fat and drastically shorten your lifespan. That is an oversimplification, but you get my drift. I can honestly say that I have not heard one PSA that focuses on your individual nutrition effecting the well-being of the broader nation. Although I tend not to be as alarmist as all of that, I do believe there is some truth there. For instance, if I have good nutrition that results in good health, I am able to care for my family well and have energy and vigor left over to volunteer in my community, thus caring for my nation at large. The message is different from during WWII, but the IDEA is still the same.
So, is the proper nutrition of my family my “sacred duty as an American woman”?
Perhaps. At this point in history, I would say that this is the sacred duty of any person who has a family to care for. Though the words are different, you can find this message in the movements of urban farmers, survivalists, homesteaders, community gardeners, and those just learning to garden and to preserve food. There is something incredible about being part of your food from seed to table. This is the HEART of good nutrition. We all lose when there is no connection to nature that fuels our bodies, minds, and spirits.
We might be seven decades removed from this message, but we still can “Dig for Victory.” Maybe our digging won’t help to end a war, but it will help to provide a healthy future for our children and ourselves.
Lastly, I leave you with an entry from page 51:
Today our government is stressing Food Production and Food Conservation as the patriotic duty of every American citizen. “Plant a Garden” has become a nation-wide slogan, and with it is associated a larger HOME CANNING program. Protect your family’s health with filled shelves of home-canned fruits, vegetables, and meats – – – your assurance for healthful, nourishing, year ’round meals. YOU CAN HELP in this vast Victory program – – – plant, can and eat – – – this is your part!