ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot
• On September 10, 1939, Canada joined World War II to fight against Germany. By the end of the war in 1945, one out of 10 (1.1 million) Canadian citizens would have served in military uniform and Canada would possess the fourth largest air force and the third largest naval surface fleet in the world.
As with everything else, the entire food system got swept up in the war effort. Propaganda campaigns drove home the point that food was a crucial component of war and that only well-fed soldiers win the war!
When farmers left their fields, the women’s land army jumped in to keep home-front food production going. The “Victory Garden” initiative was launched to get urban dwellers to transform all available city land into food gardens. Front yards, parks and fields, rooftops and schoolyards were put to use generating produce to help with the war effort.
An eye-catching poster campaign was used to spread the word. Slogans such as “War gardens for victory – grow vitamins at your kitchen door” and “Make this summer’s garden provide next winter’s vegetables” extolled the virtues of growing food for the winter months. Root vegetables, winter squash and storage tubers were preserved in root cellars and cold storage.
“Prepare for winter – save perishable foods by preserving now” encouraged various methods of food preservation, including canning, freezing and dehydrating the summer harvest. Women got together in their homes and community kitchens to turn fruits into jams, jellies and chutneys and vegetables into pickles, relishes and sauces. They enjoyed each other’s company, working together to put the food by and leaving with a share of each other’s harvest.
Foods were rationed and allocated with the use of ration cards. As a result of shortages, food and livestock were often bartered. The public was urged not to waste or hoard food: “Waste Not Want Not!” Dietary advice given during the war years emphasized the need to reduce meat consumption in favour of vegetables. Meat protein was to be reserved for the troops fighting overseas.
From 1930 to 1950, a leader emerged by the name of Kate Aitken, widely known as Mrs. A (1891-1971). She became a role model for the millions of Canadian women who listened to her CBC radio show where she spoke about everything from cooking to childcare and offered delicious recipes and a wealth of information on nutrition. Kate Aitken’s Canadian Cook Book was published in 1945 and became an instant bestseller. In Kate’s own words, “The book is a handy, inexpensive guide to healthful daily living.”
The “Zero-Mile Diet” is the Victory Garden for today. All those things that were advocated during World War II are still necessary if we are going to overcome the challenges ahead. We are already experiencing disruptions to food production globally due to climate change and political unrest; in times of uncertainty, it makes sense to go back to the garden to ensure there will be food on the table.
Having just written The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook, I am inspired by how many ingredients I can grow in my own backyard or in containers. I advocate that you start growing more of your own food and putting some by for an emergency. We’ve done it before and we can do it again, but the time is now!
Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour Publishing). www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath