Friday, July 12, 2013

War and Food Supplies

Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food / Lizzie (Elizabeth M.) Collingham. Published by Penguin Press, 2012.

A rare glimpse into the real reasons why the allies were successful in World War II, The Taste of War by Lizzie Collingham is a 500 page testimonial to the hardships brought to countries that might otherwise be competitive with warring nations.

Lacking food and foodstuffs is not new to populations of people worldwide, no matter where they live and grow or barter for their sustenance. Yet, coupled with the technologies of war and the devastating effects of economic sanctions, the delicate balance maintained by poorer or struggling nations did not sustain them against weaponry and war, at least the first time around.

But the broad sweep of history on the eve of war also draws from the effects of earlier starvation and disease. Thus contributing to inevitable consequences of economic failure during wartime, the tole of famine has been until this book, much overlooked. Collingham examines each aspect of food production in the major powers and colonial countries, not only for the military but for citizens, for food science and food production. Not much later than WWII, Vietnam experienced famine which cost their population a greater number of casualties than in wars it fought later on. Even if Third World countries are not considered, examples of the type of devastation that signal defeat far in advance of embattlement: Japan, Greece, Germany, the Soviet Union all suffered severe shortages and deprivation for lack of food and harshly diminished supply lines. And drought, a phenomenon of nature occurring randomly, could and did claim the last vestige of plans for recovery in the Soviet Union and other countries on worldwide scale. In the last chapter the author indicates that because abundance through farming methods will not alleviate lack of food worldwide, global famine may result from overproduction of manufactured foods which are really not nutritive to human bodies.

The book speaks of modern food history within the war years of the twentieth century, and with clarity tells the story from a global perspective. If you look for reviews online, you’ll find this book very popular for the research and careful study made by the author, its readability and comprehensive review of not only large-scale incidents, but also personal accounts. One of the better reviews is on written by James McGlothlin who states, "Extraordinary. I can’t believe I voluntarily read a 500-page economic history, let alone that I remained absorbed from start to finish… it turns out that WW II wasn’t about bad ideas, or at least the bad ideas were secondary…"

See the on-site exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum, Mess Halls and Ward Rooms, 1880s to 1950s that reveals images from books on feeding sailors and crew members in the U.S. Navy during the time period.

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