11 Food Storage Lessons Learned from WWI

By Diane June 8, 2017 12:10

11 Food Storage Lessons Learned from WWI

World War I was a long war that brought hunger and starvation to Europe. Agriculture was disrupted and commercial food production plummeted. The United States greatly increased shipments of food to Europe to help feed the troops and starving civilians. Food shortages were felt in the US, as they sacrificed to meet the growing food shortages, Americans learned to be careful with food and to make do with much less. We learned that war does not have to be fought in your homeland to affect you and your family. Here are a few more of the important lessons to be learned from World War I:

Store More Than You Expect to Need and Do It Now

You cannot always predict when you will need food storage, so it is best to always be prepared. Even with WWI raging in Europe and ample warnings, many people in the United States were caught without adequate food when scarcity came to the US. Many people did not anticipate the effect that a war elsewhere could have on their local economy. The best time to get prepared is long before you need it, when supplies are available and reasonably priced.

Many things can happen to increase your need for stored food. Shortages can go on longer than planned, foods may be accidentally spoiled, your family may grow, or you may have miscalculated your resources. Don’t be caught short.

Store Plenty of Wheat and Grains

Wheat is an important food supply during wartime. It is easily stored and shipped without any special requirements, making it a valuable resource for shipping to areas with food shortages. It’s ability to store long-term without refrigeration allows it to be easily carried as troops and refugees move.  Government publications from the WWI era indicate that wheat was considered as important as bullets to the war effort.

Unfortunately, poor crops and a lack of labor as field workers left for war meant that wheat production was down at a time when it was needed most. Shortages, both at home and abroad, meant doing without or eating alternative grains such as cornmeal, oatmeal, rye, buckwheat, barley and rice, which rose in price accordingly.

Grains are just as important to our food storage now as they were then. Stored wheat and other grains keep extremely well and are the backbone of a wartime diet. Families with stored grains will be much better prepared for rationing, shortages, and other situations that may occur. Don’t forget to store extra, if needed, for use as animal feed. Find out the top 10 cereal grains you need to have in a crisis.

Meat Shortages Are To Be Expected

Meat shortages increase during wartime, but can also happen in response to grain shortages, drought, disease, transportation problems, monetary problems, and any number of unpredictable situations. Having a storage solution for meat and meat substitutes can make a big difference in your family’s available protein during a shortage.

Having your own livestock is important to maintaining your supply for the long-term. For example, families with a few hens have an almost endless supply of eggs, which supply a valuable portion of the required daily protein.

But, the big lesson from WWI and WWII was that you shouldn’t rely only on livestock for your long-term protein requirements.  Invading armies usually confiscate or destroy livestock and other animals. Home governments ration meat, with even farmers having short supplies. Allies and enemies alike know that meat is important to morale and survival. Having a stored, and well hidden, supply of meat and/or meat substitutes can make a big difference in the health and happiness of your family during wartime.

Store More Fats

World War I taught us the importance of fat in the diet and on the appetite. Shortages were extreme, especially in Europe, and the lack of fat affects almost all recipes in every food category. Fats are an important category for your food storage, and one often overlooked.

Fats add a lot of flavor and energy to your food, but they also serve an important role in cooking. Without fat, our cooking methods for many foods are severely limited. Another reason to store fats is their concentrated energy. While that may mean unwanted pounds in today’s sedentary lifestyle, it can be vitally important when physical labor is required and survival means hard work from dawn to dusk.

The lessons for today are to avoid wasting this precious food, stock as much as you can use before they go rancid, use your supplies and rotate them, and learn to use animal fats. Many preppers are learning to render lard and tallow from saved animal fats, a valuable skill at any time.

Sugar and Salt are Important for Storing Foods of Abundance

It is easier to do without sugar than most other foods, and sugar contributes very little nutrition to the diet. Since many people are actively trying to reduce their sugar and salt today, they may not consider them important food storage items. However, in a scarcity situation, it is important to preserve every bit of food available. Sugar and salt are important ingredients to making jellies, jam, pickles and sauerkraut, and preserving meats and fish. With a stored supply of salt and sugar, foods can be preserved during times of abundance for later use.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are important nutritionally, but, as a locally grown product, they become even more important when other foods are scarce. During WW1 and WW2, nearly every family had a garden and grew their own vegetables. These foods helped supply nutrition, bulk, and variety to the family diet.

Casual gardeners found that there is a learning curve to growing your own food, and that the best gardeners have years of practice. Gain this skill before you need it, and learn to preserve your produce for year-round use.

The Importance of Storing Seeds

One of the great lessons of WWI for preppers and gardeners is to store plenty of seeds. When fields are bombed, burned or otherwise destroyed by war, seeds become scarce. Having an abundant supply of seeds, especially heritage varieties that will produce seeds for subsequent crops, can be a lifesaver for your family and your community.

Store Potatoes

Potatoes have been blamed for many an extra pound on the body, but the truth is that they are a nutritious food that is easily stored for many years. Fresh, they will keep a family fed over winter when few other crops are available and then yield seed potatoes for the next year’s planting. But their real value during wartime is as a dried, storable product.

The dried weight of a potato is only about 20 percent of its fresh weight, making it lightweight for easy carrying. During WWI, dried potatoes were shipped to the troops and to the starving populations of Europe, making them scarce and expensive at home. Store a plentiful supply of nutritious dried potatoes.

Sauce and Spice Makes Everything Nice

Sauces and Spices are another important category that is often overlooked. While they may not contribute much nutrition on their own, they contribute greatly to the palatability of many foods. Leftovers, unfamiliar foods, and otherwise unappetizing foods can be greatly improved with a few seasonings or a good gravy.

Prevent Food Waste

Preventing food waste begins with careful shopping. Buy food with thought and care, planning ahead how each bite will be eaten, and cook it with care. During WWI, cooks were instructed to cook less for each meal, so that every bite was eaten, and diners were encouraged to eat less. Any leftovers were served again at the next meal until completely consumed. Spoiled food was a terrible waste and considered unpatriotic.

In these times of plenty, we have become wasteful, discarding over one third of the edible food produced. Simply cutting down on food waste would allow us to store more for future use and save money for other needed items.

Your Stored Food is a Vital Asset

Any number of things could happen to drastically reduce or completely cut off your family’s food supply. In a wartime situation, the danger is much greater and hardship is to be expected. If we listen to the lessons of history, we know that being prepared is the best thing you can do to protect your family. The time to stock up is now while supplies are plentiful.

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By Diane June 8, 2017 12:10
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  1. John Doe June 8, 15:46

    A suggestion for storing wheat, etc. is purchase 55 gallon metal drums (food grade, no oil products). Keeps rodents away. Make line against wall and make into shelf. Hidden, but storing a lot of food.

    Reply to this comment
    • Older prepper June 8, 20:48

      John Doe, I am an older lady prepper. I” think” I understand what you are saying, but what you wrote, is not understandable to me. So, IS this, what you are saying.
      Use an inside wall in your HOME, and make a line,area the width of your 55 gallon, drum. About 30 inches? Make shelves, and build a wall over that, with the 55 gallon drums lined up inside this fake wall’. Then it just looks like it is part of your wall for the room. This is how it would be hidden, unless you make a door to it; then people would know there is something behind, or in it. Close? I still like the idea. You would lose room area, but survival is more important.☺

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  2. Jennie June 8, 18:56

    This post (excellent, by the way) reminded me of a book my sister just checked out from the library called: “Root-to-Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” by Tara Duggan. I skimmed through and was impressed with her many creative suggestions for using up ALL the vegetable and wasting nothing. Waste not, want not, after all, whether in times of plenty or in time of need.

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    • Older prepper June 8, 21:03

      Jennie, excellent, I may go to library and see if they have it here. My mom who has passed, wrote me some recipe’s I asked for. Like her beet soup. I happen to LOVE beet soup.
      She says to grind up the beets, and the BEET GREEN on top, add to the soup. There is more to this recepi, but it is on the order of what the book is talking about. i never, threw away the green tops, from my beets anyway, and I made a green dish, (like Chard) with a lot of onions and garlic. Very healthful for us, if, NOT the ‘best’, taste in the world. I would bet, one could use Carrot tops in soups too, instead of throwing that away. In vegetable soup, it would add bulk, and vitamins. SURVIVAL.

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      • Jennie June 9, 01:27

        Hi there, Older Prepper! Your mom sounds like mine (she turns 80 this month), and I love how the older generation was so good at frugalities and not wasting things. Many of us, particularly younger generations, have lost some of those skills. My mom makes bone/veggie broths using beet tops, carrot tops, excess veggie scraps, etc. She simmers this mix in water, with a few beef bones (grass fed, organic) and a tablespoon of vinegar for 12 to 24 hours and turns it into an amazing bone broth that has done wonders for my dad’s Crohn’s disease. And I’m sure your “green dish” is delicious! Sounds like the sautéed greens, kale, onions, etc that I enjoy on a regular basis. Good goal is survival with our health intact!

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        • City Chick December 26, 21:01

          Jenne – Jacque Pepin does the same thing as your Mom, and he is a world famous French chef! I bet your Mom could teach him a thing or two too! Merry Christmas!

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      • Cella June 18, 14:16

        carrot tops and other normal throw aways are great when making broth – chicken, beef or veggie.

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    • City Chick July 7, 00:48

      Hope there are some notable exceptions spelled out in that book for eating the entire veg. Rhubarb, potatoes come to mind as one should not eat the greens and stone fruits one should not eat the pits!

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  3. Chris June 9, 02:09

    I tried to find The List Way at Barnes and Nobel however since I didn’t know the author they couldn’t help me. Can you help me or does anyone know the author?

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  4. hillbilly girl June 9, 13:09

    Fat and salt are essential to health. You will die without them.
    We have always eaten beet and turnip tops / greens. You eat the greens when you pull the beet or turnip. Then you eat the roots on another day. Finely dice a turnip and cook with turnip greens. 1 or 2 spoonfuls of bacon grease makes greens taste even better. I was a teenager before I saw vegetable oil. You cooked with bacon grease, lard, tallow and butter. Even desserts. It was raw whole milk, raw butter, etc.

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  5. Angie June 9, 17:22

    This kinda reminds me of Doomsday Preppers on A&E. Nice article, very poignant. I need to start on my Emergency Food Kit.

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  6. Festus51 June 10, 02:06

    I am a wheat grower, unless you treat the wheat with a chemical treatment the bugs will get it with in two months of storage. Unless you store the wheat in a freezer it will get bugs. It is limited storage with put bugs in it.

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    • left coast chuck June 11, 01:57

      If you have the wheat in a sealed container and you store it for, say, a month in the freezer won’t that kill any bugs, larvae and eggs that might infest the wheat? If not, why not? Or, if a month is not long enough, is there some period of time beyond which those three categories of infestation have been eliminated? I am certainly no entomologist, but it seems that freezing would eventually kill any living insect organism in the grain. Besides, from what I have read, grubs, weevils and etc type of bugs in flour and wheat products adds to the protein content of the grain and is edible. Wheat aboard ship was notorious for containing weevils and most sailors ate them. From accounts I have read, prisoners in various prison camps also ate the various insects in their food for the extra protein they contained.

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    • PL C June 14, 19:47

      I’ve heard, too, that adding food-grade diatomaceous earth will rid your wheat of insects (before you store it?). Wheat berries are supposed to last 30 years under proper storage conditions (dry & cool), but surely won’t if the bugs get it first!

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      • wa2qcj June 15, 16:59

        Diatomaceous earth is a good pesticide. Food grade, people can just mix it in with their food and have no concerns about it harming them. For those who do not know, Diatomaceous earth has a Talk Power feel, to us. To bugs, it is like any of us having to walk barefoot over sharp broken glass. Diatomaceous earth also makes a great insecticide for home use, or outside as well.
        For storing food, ammo cans are great. Look for larger metal ammo cans online. If the can has a metal to metal lid, or some other good seal, it should keep the food in, and the bugs out. Oxygen absorbers are good to have as well. Put the packets in the dry goods, such as flour, to absorb the oxygen, which reduces spoilage. The use of the absorbers might even help form a vacuum seal. Get the equipment for canning, and can your own foods. Re-canning what was store bought might be a good idea as well. I have had some commercial goods go bad, and I wonder if I had taken the time to re-can them, what caused the product to go bad might have been avoided. A stock up, but safe storage of fuels might be something to pursue as well. As much of a waste of time though it may be, canning water, at the pressures for meat, to have sterile water might be a good idea to consider. It is a good way to balance out the canner if the product you are canning is not enough jars to fill the canner. I would also suggest buying a reverse osmosis filter, such as what Watts-Premier sells, along with extra filters and R/O membrane. Pumps and methods of creating water pressure are also good to know. Buying a bladder type water tank, like those who use a well for their water might be an idea to consider. While it might have to be hand pumped, it is still a pressurized source of water, for such things as a R/O type water filter. To gain water pressure, get the water source as high as possible. Hydraulic water pumps, that use flowing water to help the pump operate are good to have around. For every foot of height, water creates a pressure of about 0.4 psi. For a height of 10 feet, the pressure is going to be about 4.3 PSI. A little extra knowledge that others might need to know.

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    • granny mae December 4, 21:42

      I store my wheat in big plastic buckets with oxygen absorbers in with the wheat and then quickly seal the bucket and it has stored just fine. I have had them like this for over 7 years now !

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  7. Lucy June 10, 16:22

    I knew a German man who, with his mother, lived for two years in the root cellar of a bombed-out house in the Stuttgart area. He said they survived on the potatoes and carrots for almost a year.

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  8. left coast chuck June 11, 01:50

    I only know about WW! from history, however, from WWII, I can tell all that sugar was almost impossible to get in the regular markets even if you had the coupons. If you didn’t mind paying black market prices, you could get it. Meat was scarce and the coupons didn’t go very far. See remarks above re black market. I can remember having to put cardboard in my shoes because the soles had holes in them and the shoemaker didn’t have half soles to repair them. Leather shoes also required coupons. My parents wouldn’t buy on the black market because they felt it was unpatriotic to support the black market. My father had a very broad vocabulary of ethnic slurs and general words of opprobrium which he freely employed in discussing the various genealogy, legitimacy and sexual activities of folks who engaged in black market activities, both sellers and buyers. My folks didn’t have any scruples against liquor, they just didn’t drink, so obtaining alcohol or cigarettes wasn’t a problem. I don’t think they picked up their coupon books for those items. I suspect now, that the person who was responsible for handing out coupon books probably sold them on the black market. It never occurred to my folks that they could have done the same thing. They were the kind of people you could give a thousand dollars to hold for you and come back ten years later and you would get back the original bills that you had given them. My father got extra gas coupons because he worked at an oil refinery and was considered a critical worker. He also didn’t get drafted because of his work. He actually was a little old, but toward the end of the war they were taking older married men with kids. We saved grease and turned it in to the butcher shop and got some kind of credit for it. Too long ago to remember what kind of credit. As kids, we picked up every empty pack of cigarettes we saw and laboriously scrapped off the tin foil on the pack and rolled it into a ball and turned that in someplace for the aluminum that was in the foil. Actually with tens of thousands of kids all over the country doing that a lot of aluminum was salvaged. I didn’t know a single kid that wasn’t doing that. There was no butter, of course, There was oleomargarine. It was white and had a tab of yellow food dye that, if one wanted yellow margarine, kneaded the dye tab into the margarine. That was a laborious task. My recollection was that margarine was also rationed but that recollection is foggy it may not have been. I can tel you that it was not “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” It was nasty greasy stuff, yellow or white. Sort of a bland tasting lard. Bacon grease on bread was much better unless it was cold, then it was in the same category. Hot bacon grease on Wonder Bread — I’m in heaven. Most chicken was stewing chicken, not fryers. When Roosevelt talked about a chicken in every pot for Sunday dinner, he was talking about a stewing chicken, not KFC. Fried chicken was a very rare treat. The only chicken I remember was stewed chicken and then my mother boiled the bones and made chicken soup. We also ate the gizzard, the liver and the heart. Other than chopped chicken liver from the Jewish deli, when was the last time you ate chicken gizzard, liver and heart? Even if you buy whole chicken in the supermarket you don’t get those parts. You would probably have to go to an ethnic grocery to get them. Of course we had a victory garden. Everyone who had any kind of yard at all had a victory garden. I don’t remember wheat products being scarce. We alway had bread. No pastries or cake because they took sugar. I can’t remember pies either, but we are talking 70+ years ago and I was quite young so my memory is hazy on a lot of things. Train travel was discouraged to leave room for servicemen who might be traveling to duty stations or home on leave. We didn’t have any kind of bus service in town at all, so I can’t comment on it, but I suspect that long distance bus service, if there was any was also similarly restricted. Milk, bread, ice and the dry cleaner all had horse-drawn wagons. The horses knew the routes and would stop at the houses that got delivery without the driver even getting on the wagon to drive it. He generally walked alongside the wagon and got the milk at each house. Many people still had ice boxes and got deliveries of ice. We used to follow the ice wagon in the summer and get chips of ice from the blocks as he broke them up for delivery. My mother darned socks, turned collars and cuffs and made clothes for us kids out of my father’s clothes when the collars and cuffs were worn out on both sides. She also sewed clothes from patterns when she could get cloth. Life was austere during WWII. In the early years it was really touch and go whether we would prevail or not. It wasn’t until we took North Africa and Guadalcanal that the war started to look up for us. Prior to that things were grim and it seemed as if the Japanese and the Germans might win the war.

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    • left coast chuck June 12, 00:56

      As a follow-up on my post, I just read in the paper today, that on this date, June 11, 1947, wartime rationing of sugar ended. That’s a little piece of trivia that I hadn’t accessed in my memory banks. Almost two full years after the war ended on August 15, 1945, sugar rationing ended. There’s an item to sock away.

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    • granny mae December 4, 22:02

      Wow, It is so nice to hear from someone else that can remember the war days and the struggle we lived through. One good thing though, there was no one better than another, we were all poor ! I too remember the ice truck and also times when several neighbors got together to donate something for a meal. I remember having times when I had just corn bread for dinner or sometimes hard boiled eggs sliced in a cream sauce over toast. I loved it ! Daddy cut the toes out of my shoes so I could wear them because they were too short ! Gramma adding a little new piece of cloth to the bottom of my skirts or dresses to make them longer because I had grown too tall to wear them but I was still skinny enough to get into them !

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  9. PL C June 14, 20:01

    An educational yet entertaining series that was originally on the BBC, but you can access on YouTube: Wartime Farm. It is about farming in England during WW2. There are 9 hour-long episodes that detail the learning and privations (and regulations) that beset the British farmers. Find them on the YouTube channel “The Farmvids”. Before the war, two thirds of all food was imported to Britain, being an island nation, and some food rationing lasted into the early ’50’s. I highly recommend it, as a supporting link to this article.

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    • City Chick July 7, 01:12

      Thank you for this reference. I know I will tune in at the first opportunity. Born some years after the war ended, it is amazing how many of the ways described here still were prevalent at home when I grew up as they were permanently imbedded in the life style of the people who soldiered through it because they remembered what it was like to do without.

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  10. shoestring July 19, 18:30

    live the life style now,if you cant garden go to u pick farms and can it.home canned foods will last as long as the seal isn’t broken 20 30 years or more.i hunt all my own meat except for beef and can 1/2 freeze1/2.if you kill a large animal save the intestines wash them out render the fat from animal put raw meat in intestines about the size of basket ball tie ends coat with renderd lard.burry 4 foot in ground or bellow frost line in north meat will keep like this for 50 years or more.learned that from a indian I served with.

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  11. jimbob December 6, 19:08

    i am realy bad with computers but great with my hands,
    i tried to get the paper work to make a tesla battery or is it a generator. not sure would be willing to pay someone to help get the parts list and directions.
    thanks 1858 414 3419

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  12. Michael January 3, 18:08

    As much and as often as I can, I put the normally discarded parts of vegetables into 500 mm containers and freeze them. When I have nine full containers, I take them out and run the contents through a mincer ( grinder ) and then put this into my Excalibur dehydrator. I’ve found that 500 mm of ground vegetable scraps is enough for each of the nine trays in the dehydrator, hence the use of nine containers.

    Once the scraps are completely dried, I put them into a food processor and grind them up as fine as I can and then store them an air tight jar along with an oxygen absorbing sachet. I mostly use this powder to thicken soups, stews and casseroles. I’m not gluten intolerant, but this might be a good thickening agent to replace grain based thickeners, for anyone who is.

    I do the same thing with any off cuts from tomatoes, such as the tops and use the powder as a tomato base for most of the Mediterranean meals I make. To give you some idea of the storage space savings from dehydrating food, my local green grocer was selling whole cartons of tomatoes quite cheaply a while ago, so I bought one. After I cooked the whole lot up, I’m guessing about 15+ kilos, along with onions and garlic and seasoning and then dehydrating the lot, I ended up with a supply of powder that barely filled 3/4 of a 400 g. Maccona coffee jar. I wish I had noted when I made this stuff and when it was all used up, but I’m guessing it was least a year before it was all used.

    I do pretty much the same thing with the stalks from large field and Portobello mushrooms – dice them up fine, dehydrate them and then use them as a thickening, flavouring powder. As with the dried tomato powder, a little bit goes a long way, so don’t be too heavy handed in using either one.

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    • dweiss August 28, 06:39

      michael, i had thought of doing the same (when i make room in my freezer–dehydrator on backorder) and then using the resulting veggie powder to add to bread/biscuit dough to eat with soup or just toasted with butter. i have powdered carrot tops, beet greens, ground elder, and amaranth that add to soups.

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  13. DJ December 25, 22:11

    I looked on Amazon for the Lost Ways by Claude Davis. It’s close to $200. I do have the Lost Book of Herbsl Remedies by Claude Davis? As of 12-25-2020

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