Happy Veteran’s Day, you guys! It isn’t easy to honor our servicemen and women on a goofy food-and-crafts blog, but after much consideration, this is what I’ve come up with: an ongoing salute to the terrible dinners of World War II.
A while ago, some old ladies in our neighborhood were having a tag sale—am I using that phrase correctly? They had all their old books and craft supplies out on folding tables in a disused building. It seemed like “having a tag sale” but it might have been “squatting on condemned property.” Anyway, I picked up a little booklet called Your Share, because my love for weird old books compelled me and it was only a few dollars and it is splendid. Its chief selling points are these:
- It is from 1943.
- It is a wartime cookbook, with curious tips and horrible recipes designed to stretch food and “points” in a time when everything was rationed by the government.
- It was published by General Mills, who crowbarred cereal and Bisquick into virtually every list of ingredients.
- Everything in it is wrong.
For instance, here are “The Basic Seven Food Groups,” arranged in a wheel so as not to unjustly overemphasize one nutritional group (e.g. “vegetables”) over another (e.g. “butter”):
So yes, in many ways, your daily 1943 allowance of “butter and fortified margarine” is roughly as crucial as each of these:
- Green and yellow vegetables. (One serving per day.) Unless I’m mistaken, the current FDA guidelines recommend that vegetables take up about half your plate. Unfortunately, in times of war, vegetable real estate must be shared evenly with milk.
- Milk and milk products… (One pint to one quart per day.) I can’t explain the ellipses, unless Betty Crocker is trailing off dreamily, lost in ice-cream-related thought. Because as she specifies, your daily milk quota “includes milk in soup, ice cream, etc.” Ough… I hope she’s not dreaming of milk soup.
- Oranges, tomatoes, grapefruit…or raw cabbage or raw salad. (One serving per day.) There’s no way these five very specific things constitute an entire food group. This is a food coalition.
- Potatoes and other vegetables and fruits. (Two servings per day.) I’m letting this go because I love potatoes, but are they really the best singular representative of all fruits and non-yellow-non-green vegetables?
- Meat, poultry, fish, or eggs… or dried beans, peas, nuts, or peanut butter. (One serving a day, plus three to four eggs per week.) The fifth major food group is “meat or peanut butter.” And just like that, I’m on board.
- Bread, flour, and cereals… (Three servings per day.) General Mills recommends you eat three times as much bread, flour and cereal as any other kind of food. Because as the fictional Betty Crocker explains in her opening letter, she and General Mills only want what’s best for you, which is a meticulous balance of cereal, austerity, and doing what you’re told. (Spoiler: It starts out pretty awesome, but it starts to take a nosedive after the first paragraph.)
It’s hard to imagine all those exclamation points coming out of a face like that, isn’t it? She looks like “Hail to the women of America!” made her throw up a little. As it turns out, the Betty Crocker of 1943 is the dourest, sourest Betty of them all…although it’s hard to imagine any of these Betties would’ve been caught dead without her pantyhose.
I will share the rest of this booklet with you a little at a time, section by section, so we can all learn about the challenges of the WWII home front. We’ll start with the “Stretching Meat” section, because it’s first, and because it just sounds so nice. In fact, I’ve already made the first recipe, and it was perfectly wretched. Can’t wait to show you.
Home Service Staff