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11-08-2015, 16:59

FOOD SHORTAGES AND RATIONING

But hardship came most broadly due to the shortages of food, clothing, and other necessities imposed on the civilians of the belligerent countries. Germany was the first to face the problem of food shortages, then suffered the most. Before the war, that country had produced most of its own food, even exporting large quantities of foodstuffs like rye and beet sugar. But the needs of the army soon meant lesser supplies of things like meat for civilians, and the British blockade deprived German agriculture of vital fertilizers. By late December 1914, voluntary food conservation gave way, at least in Berlin, to food rationing. Within a year, British naval power was having a sharp effect on Germany's food supply. Throughout 1915, German civilians felt the pressure of the war in the bread supply. Bread rationing was established in Germany in the first January of the war. By the end of 1915, it was set in many regions at half a pound daily per person, one-third less than what Germans had consumed in peacetime. The bread itself was "war bread," adulterated with potato flour. In 1916 most foods were rationed, especially staples such as meat, potatoes, and milk. From May onward, the director of the newly established War Food Office had increasing authority over what every German ate. The supply of milk dwindled, and fats like butter and cooking oil, consumed generously in all German homes before the war, became increasingly hard to obtain. Ersatz (substitute) foods, many of them hideously unappetizing, appeared and took the place of real coffee and real eggs. Civilians wandering the countryside in search of food became a common sight in Germany and in Austria as well. Buying directly from farmers was one way to circumvent rationing. The practice became so widespread that officials in some regions refused to allow outsiders to visit their farm villages. Another way was to patronize the black market or high-priced restaurants. Germany's population buzzed with stories of the unfairness of a system that allowed the rich to evade the worst effects of the food shortage. In the last two years of the war, food shortages became critical. A witness to the food crisis in the Central Powers was George Abel Schreiner. A naturalized American citizen who had been born in Germany, Schreiner served as a war correspondent for America's Associated Press. He arrived in Germany at the start of the conflict and remained in central Europe until the United States entered the war. Schreiner's picture of deprivation in Germany and Austria included a discussion of how the food supply was distorted from early in the war as the well-off hoarded as much nourishment for themselves as possible. His description of food lines "to eat under government supervision," as he put it—showed the anguish of people dependent upon seemingly callous governments for their meager nourishment.' A poor potato harvest deprived Germans of their staple food in the winter of 1916-1917. It was replaced by turnips, even as the bread ration was reduced and fruits and vegetables nearly disappeared. The government lowered the bread ration again in May 1918. Two months later, the equally crucial potato ration was reduced by half. When the Armistice arrived in November 1918, it was greeted by a nation in which everyone was hungry and most were malnourished. The effect of years of poor food raised the mortality rate in the elderly. Poorly nourished youngsters were vulnerable victims to diseases like tuberculosis. By contrast, the populations of Britain and France avoided serious food shortages during the first three years of the war. France was Europe's most prosperous and self-contained agricultural nation. Britain, so long as it controlled the sea lanes, could be assured of a food supply, even though British agriculture had so dwindled since the 1870s that it provided only 20 percent of the wheat and something more than half the meat the population ate. The major concern at first was the rise in food prices: meat, for example, cost 40 percent more in Britain after the war had gone on for just a year. Food difficulties appeared in Britain only at the close of 1 9 1 6. Adulterated "war bread" now replaced the standard loaf in the shops, and the government made appeals for a cut in meat consumption and for the cultivation of private food gardens. Alcoholic beverages were weaker than their prewar counterparts, and brandy was obtainable only if your doctor prescribed it. As the submarine menace began to sever Britain's sea links with the world in 1917, the government moved rapidly to arrest the danger. Bread consumption fell, not as a result of formal rationing but in the wake of a government propaganda appeal. British agriculture revived under a system of government subsidies. Compulsory rationing—with only tea, cheese, and bread excepted—was put in place early in 1918. In Fnce, the food shortage also arrived only late in the conflict. War bread, called "national bread," appeared in May 1916. By year's end, however, lines in front of grocery stores were lengthening, and the government began to plan heavier restrictions. In 1917 they arrived as France also began to suffer shortages and price rises. Sugar was rationed, milk was often unobtainable in cities at any price, and, in a blow to every French home, "national bread" became even less palatable than the version of the previous year. In November even this had to be rationed.

 

 

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