Disclaimer
• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.

Categories

“Food Will Build A New America!” The US National Nutrition Program in 1943

An alert reader (Michael Plunkett, mpix123) sent me the following scan from the “National Nutrition Edition” of a Kerr Canning Co. booklet published in 1943. (This was the height of World War II.)

“Every Day, Eat This Way”

I recommend clicking on the picture below so you can read the text.

"Food Will Build A New America!"  Every day, eat this way

Click image to read at full size

Can you imagine the phrase “vitamin-rich fats” in any government or mainstream dietary recommendation today? I can’t either.

Just for fun, let’s figure out how many changes we have to make in order to turn this chart into a guide to functional paleo. Let’s see…delete the “bread and cereal” box…pull corn out of the “vegetables” box and peanuts out of the “spreads” box…demote dairy to “use dairy fats sparingly”, and strike the phrase “or fortified margarine”…I think we’re done!

And even in its original form, we still have a diet whose fundamentals are meat, eggs, a wide variety of vegetables, and butter.

Death By Pyramid

Pyramids are never a good thing.

From Egypt to Central America, pyramids have meant endless, grinding, grain-fueled slavery for the glory and enrichment of the ruling class. In modern America, they mean…

The Original Food Pyramid

…well, basically the same thing.

Fighting obesity with the US Government's dietary recommendations.

And let’s not forget our steadily decreasing functional lifespan.

Are we surprised that replacing “Every Day, Eat This Way” with a pyramid based on birdseed has helped produce a fatter, sicker America?

Bonus Feature: Meat Planet! The Lost Episode of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”


Holiday Swag

DBTT T-shirt design - thumbnail

Click for sizing information,
and to order.

The gnolls on my mailing list have already received their Gnollwear™…and now it’s available to everyone!

Furthermore, you can solve all your holiday shopping problems—and support independent authors and publishers—by taking advantage of my publisher’s offer of free gift-wrapping and drop shipping on all signed books and T-shirts. (Offer has expired, though signed copies are still availablesign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss any more special deals!)

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS


(Yes, I’m still on hiatus…this is a bonus update. Enjoy!)

Bookmark and Share
37 comments to “Food Will Build A New America!” The US National Nutrition Program in 1943
  • Todd B

    All I can say is thank you for sharing the Meat Planet. Made my day.

  • Paul Jaminet

    Hi JS,

    I’m glad we didn’t choose a pyramid for our food apple!

    Merry Christmas!

  • goddesslynne

    I’m reminded of an article I read a few years ago about spending a week in the life of the 50′s housewife. This isn’t the one I read, but it’s similar: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1375913/…..peace.html

    Thanks you JS for everything!! I received my t-shirts and they’re awesome!!

  • Timothy

    That is awesome. Nutritional science in 1943 was already right on the major nutrients. Note that the milk would have been raw and the beef grass-finished. Even more remarkable, this was a time of war rationing and good food was in short supply.

    It’s weird to think there was a time when the government was more interested in advancing public health than exploiting it. Maybe if Yamamoto had been luckier at Midway, there would have been more time for these good habits to sink in.

  • Jennifer

    Any idea what the major health problems (that would have been affected by nutrition) were in the 1940′s?

  • Keoni Galt

    From Egypt to Central America, pyramids have meant endless, grinding, grain-fueled slavery for the glory and enrichment of the ruling class. In modern America, they mean……well, basically the same thing.

    I’d be laughing if I didn’t feel like crying…

  • Damn it! I’ve just drawn up my pyramid :)

  • Todd B:

    That video is genius!  I have no idea how it had been around since summer and only had 17K views (it's up to 24K now).

    Paul:

    I was initially skeptical of the PHD food apple, but you've made it into a helpful reference.  And I laughed when I first noticed the brown apple stem labeled “Chocolate”.

    My best holiday wishes to you and Shou-Ching!

    goddesslynne:

    That's a great article!  It reminds us that devices we now take for granted — like clothes washers and dryers — really did save women a lot of labor.

    It also reminds us that automobiles went very quickly from “luxury” to “mandatory” in just a few decades…the entire concept of the “suburb” assumes that everyone owns an automobile, because it's no longer possible to walk to anywhere that sells food or other daily necessities.

    I'm glad you like the T-shirts!  Nothing but first quality will do for my readers.

    Timothy:

    I'm not sure if the government has ever been interested in nutrition: dietary recommendations have always been “eat more of what we're producing”.  I believe the change in recommendations is mostly due to the massive change in US farm policy in the early 1970s (due to Earl Butz) — from one designed to maintain price stability for a nation of mostly small farmers, to one designed to produce the maximum output of a few commodity grain crops from large industrial farms.

    Jennifer:

    I think the major health problems in 1943 were being shot by the Germans or Japanese!

    Keoni:

    Pyramids have stood for authority since ancient Egypt, all the way through the one on our dollar bills.

    You can't live or work in a pyramid: it's of absolutely no use to anyone.  What a pyramid says is “You are my slave, and I will make you stack rocks until you die.  You and your family will be reminded of my power over you every waking moment by the shadow of this gigantic useless edifice that towers over you.” 

    The Aztecs underscored the point by sacrificing people on them.

    Paul:

    Building one is the hard part: it generally requires a kingdom and a steady supply of slaves.  Get cracking!

    Brynn:

    Would it be enriched by adding spices?  No one can say.

    JS

  • Slaves? You sorely underestimate the power and committment of a determined Yorkshireman! If determined Yorkshiremen were around in ancient Egypt, we'd 've built way bigger and they'd 've lasted longer, too … and had a purpose for the people!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

  • eddie watts

    this is a great write up thanks, the graph of obese rising is very striking.
    odd that the merely overweight barely changed but the obese shot up like that!

    looking forward to watching meat planet when i get home.

  • eddie watts

    of course part of that is that a defined level of fatness was decided as being obese, whereas before there was no definition for being obese.

    it was kind of like art before “i don’t know how to quantify it, but i know it when i see it”

  • mike

    Money from major AgCons didn’t contaminate our social fiber yet. Simple honest rule one vote one man was still the norm. Today the corporate buck rules our interests with lies and deceit.

  • eddie:

    Those statistics are solid: all the data points in that graph use the same definition of “overweight” and “obese”.

    Also, the fact that the number of “overweight” didn't change proves that the rising number of obese is not a statistical fluke: just as many normal-weight people are becoming overweight as overweight people are becoming obese.  In other words, everyone is getting heavier.

    If the proportion of overweight changed substantially, then we could say that rising obesity is due to fat people getting fatter while everyone else stayed the same — or due to a “lumpy” statistical distribution of BMI.  But that is not the case.

    Of course, BMI is an imperfect proxy for obesity.  But it is indisputable that Amerian has become dramatically heavier since 1978…and I see no evidence that this is due to a nationwide epidemic of muscle-building exercise.

    mike:

    The corporatization of agriculture is a whole another topic, which I've touched on in “Real Food Is Not Fungible.”

    JS

  • eddie watts

    i posted the graph on my facebook and was shortly after asked what changed in 1956 and 1977.
    i responded that in the mid 70′s HFCS became commonly used sweetener in US and that pre the graph dates these sort of details were not collated so details not available so comprehensively.

    also was there not a political situation where food became an electoral issue which lead to grain subsidies in the 70s?

  • John

    Eddie,

    Lots of changes happened in the 70′s (I believe that’s when Canola Oil was first introduced too), but the big one is listed at the top of the graph- The government guidelines to eat more grains, and less meat and fat.

    Food Manufacturers responded by creating foods that were healthy according to the guidelines.

    Scientists responsded by creating and doing experiments that tried to support the guidelines (because most science funding comes from the government).

    The Government also feeds about 50 million people (like the military, prisoners, and school children), and meals have to conform to these guidelines.

    So even if the average person ignored the guidelines, they still had a massive impact, and it doesn’t appear to have been any good.

  • eddie, John:

    Those are both important pieces of the puzzle, and they're related.  The statistics clearly show that fat was not just replaced by sugar in our diet — we ate far more calories in total, and the increase was almost all from sugar.  I'm sure that cheap HFCS had something to do with that.

    One of the important facts I try to keep in mind when puzzling out reasons for increased obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in America is “Did the prevalence of this activity accelerate dramatically after 1978?”  

    It's not enough for the prevalence to be rising smoothly — because that doesn't explain the acceleration of obesity that began sometime between 1978 and 1988.  That's why I don't find hypotheses like “People became lazy and gluttonous and that's why we're fat” or “Food became tasty and that's why we're fat” to be compelling: people didn't suddenly become lazy in 1978, and food didn't suddenly become tasty in 1978 either.

    Yes, the rate of fast food consumption was increasing…but it had been increasing steadily since the late 1950s, yet obesity didn't accelerate until after 1978.  Also recall that the 1970s were the golden age of junk food and advertising to kids: perhaps I'll post some scans from comic books of the era. 

     

    I think that our agricultural policy was the primary driver: as I said above, it shifted from maintaining profitability for small farmers to maximizing production for a few commodity crops (corn, soy, wheat, cotton).  This created mountains of cheap surplus corn, soy, and wheat that needed to be eaten.  Therefore, our dietary guidelines changed to emphasize the consumption of products made from corn, soy, and wheat (e.g. “whole grains”, “vegetable oils”) — and manufacturers naturally took advantage of the cheap grains to produce processed food products based on them (cereal, bread, pasta, chips and fried snack foods, sodas, cookies, and sweets via HFCS).  

    The combination of cheap grain-based ingredients and institutional support for their consumption is, I believe, the largest contributor to obesity — though the mechanisms by which that occurs are still being investigated, and I believe there are major roles for other contributors.

    JS

  • Franco

    I don’t know if such a graph exists for Germany/Europe but I do remember that from end of 70ies/beginning of 80ies my mother started to buy margarine instead of butter and lard (for frying) was replaced by sunflower oil. Good (or any) olive oil was almost unknown those times in Germany (that changed by the 90ies luckily). And wasn’t it around that time that coke became sweeter?
    Oh and nutella replaced (home made) jam and honey on my breakfast bread more and more. Snack bars became more common too. And albeit I was never fat I became a bit chubby around the midesection that time but leaned out again a few years later when I had my final growth spurt and started jobbing. BTW, my younger brother (by 5 years) never got rid of his (even bigger) chubbiness. Maybe because he was always lazier then me (started working later/didn’t do sports
    ) or maybe because he wasn’t lucky enough to grow verry fast to 6″4″ like I did. I think he must be around 5″11″.

  • Will

    RE your “yeah, that worked” remark: The flaw in your reasoning with your graph showing the rising levels of obesity is that very few, if any Americans were actually following the government’s recommendations–in fact, total fat consumption throughout that period actually increased. Since very few people ever even pay any attention to the various government food pyramind, one cannot look at the current state of health of Americans in general and point to the government recommdations as the cause.

  • Will:

    Contrary to your assertion, both relative and absolute fat consumption decreased.  

    The American Journal of Medicine Volume 102, Issue 3 , Pages 259-264, March 1997. Divergent trends in obesity and fat intake patterns: The american paradox. MD Adrian F. Heini, MD, DrPH Roland L. Weinsier

    My discussion of it is found here:

    RESULTS: In the adult US population the prevalence of overweight rose from 25.4% from 1976 to 1980 to 33.3% from 1988 to 1991, a 31% increase.

        [WIth a 55% increase in obesity and a 214% increase in extreme obesity. See the original NHANES data.]

    During the same period, average fat intake, adjusted for total calories, dropped from 41.0% to 36.6%, an 11% decrease.

        [We were doing exactly what we were told to do: eat less fat.]

    Average total daily calorie intake also tended to decrease, from 1,854 kcal to 1,785 kcal (−4%).Men and women had similar trends.

        [Look at that! We weren't eating any more food...but, somehow, we got fatter anyway.]

    Concurrently, there was a dramatic rise in the percentage of the US population consuming low-calorie products, from 19% of the population in 1978 to 76% in 1991.

        [Again, we were doing exactly what we were told to do: eat low-fat, high-carb products.]

    From 1986 to 1991 the prevalence of sedentary lifestyle represented almost 60% of the US population, with no change over time.

        [So we weren't exercising any less, either.]

    In other words, we were eating the same number of calories, eating dramatically more low-calorie, low-fat ‘health food’, and exercising the same amount…but we got dramatically fatter!

    JS

  • Againstthegrain

    I dunno. It just wasn’t the same/as bad as it is now, but the US was already well on its way on down The Road to UnWellville even in the 40s. Consumption of convenient factory food had really gotten a good foothold in urban populations beginning in the late 19th century; by mid-20th century the food supply had transformed with many, many storebought refined and shelf-stable convenience food products. In WWI many volunteers and draftees had to be turned away from service because of poor physical condition due to malnourishment, possibly from so many refined and depleted foods. As a public health and national security issue, the government sped up the pace of involvement requiring enrichment and fortification of the processed food supply with vitamins and minerals to replace those lost in processing.

    My dad, born in 1935, grew up in a Northeastern industrial city on “new” foods. The oldest of 9 kids, he says they consumed a LOT of canned fruit juice, as well as canned fruit & vegetables, because it was easier to heat & serve for his mother (she prepared very basic meals, and I think the growing family eventually had to eat in two shifts for each meal). Potatoes were freshly prepared daily (German and Irish heritage, though I don’t think much other fresh produce was served regularly. Desserts were packaged Jello/pudding/cake mixes, etc. Luckily his mother was the daughter of a butcher so they ate good meat on a regular basis. But he and all his siblings, have some degree of malocclusion and except for the two youngest siblings, all have had needed massive amounts of dental work.

    My mom, born in 1942, also grew up eating a lot of “new food” from packages. She lived in 8 states while growing up because her father’s job building highways required relocating. Her mother, still in very good form at 91 now, grew up poor on a cash-poor tiny farm where they raised all their own food (that probably gave her a good nutritional start in life – they were too poor to buy store food). But after my grandmother graduated from HS (the first in the family), she married and moved away – glad to be rid of the hard farm life and continual work. My grandmother readily adapted to convenience foods to feed her children – canned spaghetti, cold breakfast cereals, margarine, vegetable oils, skimmed milk, cake mixes, store bought bread, etc. Because of the frequent moves, their family later lived in a mobile home (even smaller than today’s mobile homes), so the tiny kitchen probably was better suited for preparing convenience foods. My mom has nicely straight teeth with a broad smile, but her molars are full of fillings & crowns.

    Such foods probably didn’t contribute to excess weight nearly as much as today’s packaged foods do, but I don’t think they were very wholesome. Urban people in particular probably ate a fair amount of packaged foods in the 40s.

  • Againstthegrain:

    Thank you for the personal history!

    It's easy to think we know everything because of statistics…but statistics are only as good as the underlying data, which often ranges from “suspect” to “complete bunk”.  (I'm thinking of “food disappearance data”, which only measures food that entered the commodity system — in a nation that was over 70% rural in 1900…)

    I agree that the 1940s diet would not have been optimal by any means: just because the government gives advice doesn't mean we heed it!  Furthermore, I don't believe that convenience food is a conspiracy to make us fat: people buy it because they like not having to spend the time cooking.

    However, the evidence I linked in comment #21 shows that people have indeed followed the government's dietary advice to some extent — and that it's correlated with increased obesity and decreased functional lifespan.

    The history of food fortification is indeed interesting: the entire concept of “vitamins” is fairly recent, and pellagra was thought for decades (if not centuries) to be a transmissible disease instead of a deficiency disease.

    JS

     

  • Dr. Gee

    thanks. I really enjoy your writing. LOL

  • Dr. Gee:

    I do my best.

    JS

  • Page not found &laqu

    [...] “Food Will Build A New America!” The US National Nutrition Program in 1943 [...]

  • Tuesday’s Grac

    [...] “Food Will Build A New America!”: The US national nutrition program in 1943 Stop mummy abuse Minding your mitochondria (a.k.a. the paleo cure for MS) — video A completely healthy way to use refined sugar Please consider how your actions may appear Deaths of neti-pot users prompts warning about tap water [...]

  • WOD 12/28 | CrossFit

    [...] Everyday, eat this way *Post thoughts to comments [...]

  • Correcty Fairy

    Yes, the beef was grass fed (except for the wealthy) but no, the milk was not raw. Milk was pasteurized for the safety of children and had been for decades. Unless you lived on a farm and drank fresh milk from the pail, there is no way you would have been served raw milk in that era. Small dairy farmers delivered their raw product to creameries which pasteurized milk for sale.

    Your remarks made me curious about the onset of homogenization. I found references to homogenization becoming near-universal by the 1940′s. (The process creates a longer window for sale and also a better product when combining the produce of multiple dairies.) American children of the 1940′s drank homogenized, pasteurized whole milk.

  • Correcty Fairy

    Jennifer:

    Heart disease was on the rise and would continue to rise in the coming decades. Transfats (from fake lard and margarines, popularized in the 30′s) and smoking take much of the blame.

    Infectious diseases such as polio were also a major scourge.

  • Derby City CrossFit

    [...] the Hip Hinge 101 Ways to Be F*ckin EPIC The 20 Most Intense Workout Songs (You Might Not Know) “Food Will Build A New America!” – The US National Nutrition Program in 1943 These ‘(Victoria’s Secret) Angels’ Are Too Weak Cleans and Snatches Made Easier “5 [...]

  • Correcty Fairy

    J., I must dispute your answer to Timothy about the US Government’s interest in nutrition. There was intense interest worldwide in public health in the early decades of the 20th century, and governments sought to use the burgeoning armentarium of the brand-new field of nutritional chemistry.

    The US government mandated: Iron fortification for bread; Niacin fortification of white bread to prevent Pellagra in the Southeast; Iodine in table salt to prevent Iodine-deficiency cretinism in the Middle West; and fluoridization of public water supplies to prevent dental caries. State governments passed pasteurization laws and (under pressure from dairy cooperatives) laws regulating the sale of butter and margarine so that tallow (and, later, hydrogenated vegetable oil) could not be passed off as butter. The Pure Food and Drugs Act initiated the regulation of OTC drugs and supplements and imposed regulations on slaughterhouses and livestock producers. State governments introduced health and safety regulations for restaurants and shellfish and fish sellers. This was also an era in which the government experimented with restricting and prohibiting drugs of abuse, including marijuana, alcohol, and narcotics. The final piece was government-subsidized mass mandatory vaccination of children.

    The government not only produced pamphlets like the above; during the Depression they hired college-educated social workers to distribute milk to mothers of needy children and built hospitals in underserved areas. Sanitation and nutrition were seen as critical in the war against endemic disease and poverty.

  • Correcty Fairy

    Againstthegrain’s comments are a good reminder that malnutrition, the dentist’s friend, was a serious problem in the United States throughout the 20th century, particularly among the children of the urban poor. Obesity, however, has only ramped up more recently.

  • Gymnastics Wednesday

    [...] Everyday, Eat This Way Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook Buzz it up Share on Linkedin share via Reddit Share with Stumblers Tweet about it Buzz it up Subscribe to the comments on this post Bookmark in Browser This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 at 4:47 am. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. [...]

  • CrossFit Hustle

    [...] “Food Will Build A New America!”: The US national nutrition program in 1943 [...]

  • CF:

    None of my relatives who grew up in the 1940s drank homogenized milk.  Pasteurized, perhaps (I'll have to check) — but definitely not homogenized.  The US population was far more rural than today, even in the 1940s, and the dairy industry wasn't nearly as industrialized.  I suspect there was an urban-rural split.

    Re: heart disease rates, you're correct that it's likely that they were rising back then — but the statistics aren't in any shape for us to tell.  Dr. Malcolm Kendrick spends a good deal of time on this subject in his book The Great Cholesterol Con.

    Yes, it's easy to forget that antibiotics didn't exist until the 1940s.

    Re: the government's interest in nutrition in my response to Timothy, I should have been more clear.  The government didn't seem to be very interested in telling Americans what foods they should have been eating until it started paying farmers to produce certain crops over others.  There were indeed major public health concerns, dating back at least to the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, addressed in many different campaigns.

    JS

  • Katherine

    I disagree that the government did not get involved with telling people what to eat until recently. The US government/USDA churned out propaganda from the late 1800s until at least the 60s to convince housewives that fixing 3 square meals a day for their families was old-fashioned, time-inefficient, and less nutritious than purchasing processed foods.

    It worked. When I was in high school in the late 60s/early 70s, my family was the only one I knew of where meals were cooked from scratch every day.

  • Katherine:

    Can you point out some examples?  Because there was plenty of privately-sourced propaganda (it's called “advertising”) for industrial foodlike substances such as Crisco — but the government propaganda I’ve seen is much like that shown in this article.

    JS

  • [...] reading this awesome article here I’ve been doing my darndest to research the history of America’s Food Pyramid in [...]

  • [...] reading this awesome article here I’ve been doing my darndest to research the history of America’s Food Pyramid in [...]

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe me to the sporadic yet informative gnolls.org newsletter! (Your email will not be sold or distributed.)