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“Hard Chewing”: Supporting World War I at the Kitchen Table

Rationing was one way that World War I affected people on the home front. Seeking to manage domestic consumption in order to feed the U.S. Army and to assist Allied armies and civilians., the U.S. Food Administration declared “Food Will Win the War.” In this droll reminiscence, Ethel George recalled one kind of home-front conservation effort: the hard work of chewing whole-grain foods. Born in 1903, George told her story to John Terreo, who interviewed her for the New Deal Oral History Project of the Montana Historical Society.

Listen to Audio:

Ethel George: I’ll tell you, we were strapped for money. I even worked for a brother-in-law, I did the cookin‘ while they did the harvestin’ in order to buy clothes for the kids.

John Terreo: Well, what kind of wages did you earn working for your brother?

George: A dollar a day, board and room. In those days, you didn’t really make a good deal of money. Well, I come from Montana and went to working on ranch work, $20 a month, and that was good money. And I saved money on it, too. It didn’t make much difference. You know, everybody raised what they wanted.

But when I married into the George family, that was about the time Herbert Hoover, you know, was rationing. They had to have so much meal and so much this and so much that to go with so much flour. Well, the storekeeper there at Nolton, he turned the folks in because they weren’t buyin‘ all this stuff. Well, this inspector come out there to see what we was doin’. Well, the folks had a roller mill, and they scalded their wheat and cleaned it, then through the roller mill. There was our gram flour, and we took the sifter and we sifted out all the coarse part of it. We used that for breakfast food. I cooked many and many a pot of nothin' in the wide world but whole wheat. Did you ever eat any of it?

Terreo: I don’t think so.

George: You get you a cup of whole wheat and boil it and then try to eat it. I’m here to tell you right now, you’ll do some chewin'. You’ll learn every mouthful of it you get.

Source: Courtesy of Montana Historical Society Archives.