During two global pandemics spaced about 100 years apart, our nation aided food insecure European allies during World War I, and we are aiding our food insecure neighbors today. Our current local community actions reflect those from the past — most notably in preventing wasted food and securing a local food supply.
During 1917-18, President Woodrow Wilson and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Herbert Hoover appealed to American farmers and everyday people to grow their own food, share the excess, and stop the waste. Back then, America was in the throes of World War I and the people experiencing food insecurity were our allies overseas. Their farmers had become soldiers and their farmlands became battlefields, and as a result, millions of Europeans were on the brink of starvation. In order to export food to our allies, the US Government asked Americans to stop wasting food and to grow food at home and in their local communities (referred to as “victory gardens” by the end of the war) so that America could simultaneously feed ourselves and our food insecure European allies overseas.
In early 1918, amidst the final year of World War I, American soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas contracted the influenza virus (believed to have been locally sourced and transmitted from bird to swine to humans) and spread it to other domestic military bases and crowded battlefields overseas, sparking a pandemic that in 15 months infected approximately 500 Million people and killed at least 50 Million people worldwide including 675,000 Americans. Despite the tragedy of the pandemic, food supplied to our allies helped to win the war.
One hundred years later, we are reliving history amidst another global pandemic. Today Americans are being challenged to reduce wasted food (which amounts to the third largest contributing factor to climate change) while we address our nation’s growing food insecurity resulting from Covid-19. As a result, history inspired the Love Your Food team and Larchmont/Mamaroneck community residents this past summer to grow our own food, make the most of the food we grew and share the bounty with neighbors in need. Our efforts reminded us that together, we can create a healthy, promising future by remembering the lessons of the past.
By Beth Radow