July 2, 2020

1947. Food Scarcity in Countries Devastated by the War

A Hungry World
"Bikini islanders arrive on Rongerik Atoll and unload pandanus for thatching the roofs of their new buildings," March 7, 1946 (source)
From the "Special Issue: A Report to America Two Years After V-Day," This Week magazine, August 10, 1947, pp. 4-5:

It is the first concern of a hungry world. Trouble looms for the nations which cannot provide it
Correspondents Bill Downs and Dave Seymour were standing in front of a red-brick schoolhouse in Reims, France. It is now a trade school for 1,500 boys. On the seventh of May, 1945, it was the scene of the final surrender of the German forces to the Allied troops.

Downs was viciously interrupted by the shrill scream of a siren. Downs jumped. He hadn't heard that sound in two years. The teacher smiled.

"Don't worry," she said. "It's all right. You see, food is very scarce and meat is very scarce. And when we can have fish we're very glad to announce to the people that fish is coming. So, the siren that used to announce bombers is used to announce food."

In Paris, the woman who is wearing an American medal because she was a resistance leader said: "People are unhappy about the government. After two years the war is over and we're still starving. We have no bread, we have no meat, we have very few vegetables—and at extravagant prices. I have to buy some things at the black market. As little as possible, because I am absolutely, deadly against black markets—but I can't starve either."

AND this is strange: the French capital is only a four-and-a-half hour drive from Normandy where the countryside is rolling in meat and butter and vegetables. The food isn't getting through because of snarled distribution, valueless currency, lack of consumer goods.

The city dwellers in France are mad about that. So are the residents of Tokyo because the same thing is happening to them. The Japanese are more polite about it but, in the end, the government gets the blame.

Jack Jackson, the BBC engineer with the European crew, ate more meat and butter a day in Normandy than he could get in a week in Britain. The significant result was an upset stomach.

In England, the food is the same as in wartime. Adequate but dull. You still see the queues of housewives standing before the shops marked "Horsemeat—fit for human consumption." If a GI returned to a British home today, he would find that same powdered eggs, the same oatmeal-filled sausages, the same dark bread. The meat ration would last only two days of the week, as it did before. But the prices, the housewives say, "are a hundred per cent more than they were. Everything is going up. You try to cut down one week but what you cut down one week, you spend the next.

"What's our biggest problem in food? Well, it's getting something for dinner each day."

In Germany, where people don't quite connect the fact that they're hungry with the fact that they started and lost a war, "dinner" is almost out of the vocabulary. The town of Essen, in the Ruhr mining district, is half-alive. A family of five was still in bed in its tiny, rubble shack at 10 one morning. "We call this calorie sleeping, explained Frau Albert Schulze. "By sleeping in the morning you don't have to eat breakfast. It saves food."

She awakened her 30-year-old daughter, who has a child. The father was a French soldier passing through. The family doesn't know where he is now. The head of the family is a plumber with plenty of work. So far, Schulze has been able to feed them all because he works, not for money, but only for rations which he brings home. For lunch, the Schulzes were having ersatz coffee and a slice of bread apiece.

The German bakers have been receiving corn meal with which to bake bread. But for some reason, they don't know how to do it. The bread they have been making comes out as wet, soggy, flat cakes which have caused widespread sickness among people already suffering from malnutrition. The Germans seem to have no solution for the problem. As is the custom these days, they complain but do nothing about it. It is one of those questions which all the military governments in the world could not solve. But the Germans manage to give the impression that the fact that their bakers don't know and won't learn to bake corn bread is, somehow, the fault of the occupying forces.

The main meal for the Schulzes is corn-meal soup, that soggy bread and more ersatz coffee. They are bitter about the whole thing. And this work of rebuilding and mining isn't going as it should: hunger cuts down production.

Because coal is so important, miners like Johann Esser get extra rations. But the Essers, too, are caught in the conflict between city and country. Fats are the biggest shortage. Frau Esser and her husband make laborious trips to the farmers in their area to get bacon, butter or anything else. Frau Esser is just as bitter as everybody else:

"The farmers have everything. They have several fur coats apiece which they will never wear. They have three or four coffee services, silver plates and china. The city came to them and they took everything for food. They'll have our carpet for the cow in the stable. Then maybe this will end."

IN BERLIN, the once beautiful Tiergarten is cut up into jealously guarded little gardens in which each gardener suspects his neighbor of stealing his potatoes or onions.

Hate is riding along with hunger. So is bewilderment. Thousands of miles away, Chief Judah, hallup of the people of Bikini, understands even less than the Germans the connection between him and the war. He knows the Navy took them all away to Rongerik Atoll so that Bikini could become an atom-bomb guinea pig. But the people of Bikini want to go home.

"On Rongerik," said the Chief, "everything all right, except the trees are sickly. All trees. Breadfruit trees, coconut trees and pandanus trees are sickly. On account of the sickness, not enough food. The Navy brings rice, flour, sugar. But I think if we move to some other place, we can work hard and make new plantation, and it will be better for us in the future."

Money doesn't count for much on the Pacific atoll islands like Judah's or Kwajalein, in the Marshalls, or Okinawa. Bombs and shells destroyed the coconut and breadfruit trees. Until new groves can be planted, the military authorities—meaning you—must feed the natives.

Breadfruit in the atolls. Fats in Essen. Meat in England. They have the same result. Jean Lefevre, of the St. Lô City Council, said it: "We are not satisfied with the government. The main objection is lack of food. That is the objection—the objection."

Food is just as important now as bombs ever were. And everywhere on earth the testimony piles up: if food doesn't come, bombs—in one form or another—will.