Posts filed under ‘War’
If you have kids at Halloween time, you’ve probably already started to strategize a plan for candy rationing.
Dentists in your community are happy to help. Have you heard about the Halloween Candy Buy Back? Participating dentists will accept your kids’ excess candy, pay out a dollar a pound, and send the candy to U.S. military serving overseas.
Over the years dentists have independently come up with the idea of gathering up all that extra Halloween candy and getting rid of it somehow. In 2006, Madison WI dentist Chris Kammer began to coordinate and organize the event nationally, emphasizing the buy back as a way of supporting the troops. Hundreds of local dental offices now participate. The master plan, according to Dr. Kammer, is that one day soon, dentists will “own Halloween.”
It is a win-win, as the dentists put it. Fewer pounds of candy for American kids, more pounds of candy for American troops.
Actually, taking candy from the kids and sending it to the troops is a pretty old idea.
Back in the 1890s, the German military started experimenting with sugar as a food for their soldiers. Sugar, the Germans concluded, refreshed and energized. The soldiers receiving sugar portions outperformed the sugar-free on every measure. Americans took note: Mary Hinman Abel, writing for the USDA, reported extensively on these military investigations in her 1899 study “Sugar as Food.”
The growth of candy manufacturing made more candy available for military uses. From a 1908 account of the Brooklyn candy trade:
Nowadays every battleship leaving the Brooklyn Navy Yard has on board a lot of candy for the men–Brooklyn candy. ‘Why, in the navy, when a man is handed a pound of tobacco now he is also given a certain amount of candy, and it is believed that the drinking habit will be lessened in that way,’ said a manufacturer. ‘The sailors like the plan immensely, but if they knew it was done for that, they would probably chuck the candy overboard. But aside from that, it is a good food for them; men can fight better on chocolate than on meat–that has been proved in the German army.’ (“Brooklyn leads Country in Candy Export”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 7, 1908)
Even before the U.S. joined the European war, the soldiers’ love of candy was a common theme (see my post Taking Candy from a Soldier). The war-weary GIs returning from battle in World War I brought home with them a hearty candy appetite. The explosive growth of the U.S. candy business in the 1920s and 1930s was in large part due to a new, rigorous kind of candy eating: not just kiddies and plump ladies, but big strong soldier men had to have their candy.
World War II meant once again a big demand for candy for the troops. Sugar, and candy, were in short supply state-side during the war years, partly due to war shortage, but also due to the requisitioning of huge quantities of candy for military uses. Curtiss Candy reminded customers that Uncle Sam’s needs came first:
If Americans were forced to give up some of their beloved candy to the troops in the 1940s, it was because it was the right thing, the patriotic thing to do.
And Tootsie Roll picked up the theme in their advertising:
In the Tootsie Roll ad, the joke is that the kids are mad that the grown ups are taking their candy: the soldier should buy his own Tootsie Roll. In jest or in the seriousness of war, the basic message was the same: you’ll have to give up your candy to the soldier if there isn’t enough to go around. But patriotic support of the troops is the only reason you’d forgo your candy.
In the Halloween Buy Back, the long history of “candy for the troops” collides with more recent ideas about what is bad about candy. It is dentists, after all, representatives of health and hygiene, who are encouraging kids and families to turn in their candy to send to the troops. But if the candy is bad for the kids, why isn’t it bad for the troops?
The Buy Back FAQ suggests some responses to critics who ask this annoying question:
If you get negative comments or feedback, remind critics of the purpose of Halloween Candy Buy Back:
- Halloween candy represents a warm memory of life “back home” and children that care enough to donate candy in support of our troops.
- Those troops are risking their lives every day. If a little piece of candy can provide a moment of happiness, why not?
- Soldiers are adults and certainly understand how to keep their mouths healthy by now. Children are still learning how to brush, floss, and take care of their teeth.
The first two answers emphasize candy not as candy, but as an emotion-laden symbol. This solves the conflict between candy and dental virtue by making the candy invisible: In all those crates of candy, we’re not sending candy, we’re sending support and the warmth of home.
The third reason is that kids shouldn’t have candy because candy causes cavities in kids, but somehow adults will not have this problem. Here is where things get tricky.
Cavities are caused by acids given off by bacteria as they feed on sugars and starches deposited on the teeth. Not every mouth is equally susceptible. Some kids get tons of cavities no matter what they eat. Some kids plant their face in the sugar bowl and get none. And all sugars and starches that adhere to the teeth, be they from candy, bread, pasta, jam, potatoes, and even raisins, can create a bacterial strong hold.
Of course, a “spaghetti buy back” would not put the dentists on the side of angels. Candy is easy to blame, has been for a century, and dentists have grabbed on to the candy scapegoat. This is why dentists can contemplate “owning Halloween.” Don’t get me wrong: I love my dentist. But I love my candy too.
I confess, I don’t love gum. Happily, I’m not the only one. 44 people joined the Facebook Group “Against Chewing Gum.” But Americans LOVE gum. Half of all Americans are proud gum chewers, upwards of 300 sticks per year. That’s almost $3 billion in gum sales.
Not everyone approves. I, for example, were I to be made king of the world, would outlaw chewing gum on the grounds that there is only one thing worse than stepping in fresh chewing gum on the sidewalk. And the arbiters of elegant manners have ever declaimed against the perpetual chewing motions that burn 11 calories per hour.
This is America, after all, so no king will take away anyone’s gum. Unless you happen to work for a very strict 24/7 employer. One like the U.S. Navy.
Back in 1911, the Navy Brass had enough of the indignities of chewing gum. So they said NO MORE GUM!
The navy is disconsolate. Thousands of nautical jaws that hitherto industriously and contentedly labored at the irresistible chewing gum now give their energies to berating the Fates that have decreed to them a future chicle-less existence. Chewing gum has been taken from the navy stores. Captain Fullam of the battleship Mississippi says: “The chewing gum habit is decidedly objectionable for obvious reasons”; and the Navy Dept has taken his view of the matter.
But many thought “Uncle Sam” had taken his uncle-ing duties a little too far:
Source: “Gum Mustered Out,” International Confectioner Dec 1911.
As part of the unofficial side of the U.S. “hearts and minds” campaign in Iraq, helicopter pilots are flying a new kind of mission: candy bomb drops. Blackhawk helicopter pilots are launching the candy bombs as they fly over small Iraqi villages. The “explosions” distribute sweets as well as shoes and soccer balls to the local children. The shoes and soccer balls are donated by stateside charities for distribution to the kids. And the candy? It comes from the leftovers from all those candy care packages that arrive in U.S. military camps.
Chase Rutledge, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot stationed in Iraq, described his missions:
They used to be scared when we would drop them because there was a lot of fighting going on, and they don’t know about helicopters and what’s coming out of them. But now, it’s like a little treat. They’ll start cheering when they see us flying over, hoping something will come out.
Rutledge and his buddies are doing everything they can to make a positive difference in the lives of these kids. I’m happy to know that the military forces are seeing their mission as helping and boosting up the local people.
But I have to confess, even when the candy that falls from the sky is a welcome treat, there is something a little unsettling about the idea of “candy bombs.”
And then there is always the possibility that the candy will be harmful instead of pleasurable. This was the claim back in the first World War, when reports started surfacing that German aviators were dropping poison candy on French and English villages. A New York Times correspondent reported on notices posted in French villages by the Mayor and Prefect, detailing the dropping of poison candy and cautioning citizens to turn all found candies over to the authorities. The correspondent adds:
[This poison candy drop] strikes us as the last refinement of Prussian barbarism in its death throes. … Tell the readers of The Times, as best you can, what brand of enemies they have at last chosen to fight.
It is difficult to know what really happened. This report, and other similar stories about the German poison candy drops, tended to be second hand, based on what the reporter had heard others witness or describe. No actual candy was produced to buttress the stories. In part, the appeal of these alarming tales might have had something to do with holding an image of your enemy as one so vile as to poison children with candy. And there is also a long tradition, going back to the 1890s, of bringing up the specter of poison candy whenever something bad happens (more on poison candy stories here).
Candy poisoning stories in the U.S. tended, on closer scrutiny, to be more rumor and assumption than fact. So it’s also possible that the stories of war-time candy poisoning as part of the enemy’s attack might also have arisen out of popular ideas about candy. It is also possible, of course, that the Germans really were dropping poison candy out of airplanes.
It was Otto Schnering, the founder of Curtiss Candy Company, who transformed the idea of candy bombs into a public relations stunt. In 1923, he dropped his first load of Baby Ruth candy bars over the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Curiously, the candy bars pelting down from the sky did not lead to mayhem and destruction. In fact, the spectacle of candy rain was so successful that Schnering did it again, expanding his airplane candy drop program to 40 states.
But it wasn’t until World War II that candy bombing really took off. One WWII hero, Gail Halvorsen, became famous as the “candy bomber” for his role in the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift. As Halvorsen would guide his plane into the Templehof airfield in the American sector of Berlin, he would drop candy attached to parachutes to the children watching the planes land. Soon, other pilots got in on the candy action. By the end of the campaign, some 25 tons of candy has fallen from the skies and into the tummies of the grateful Berlin children.
Sources: Nanette Light, “Helicopters Drop Candy, Shoes for Iraqi Kids,” The Norman (OK) Transcipt 29 April 2010; “German Aviators Drop Poisoned Candy,” New York Times 27 May 1917; Ray Broekel, “Otto Schnering Is My Name, Advertising is My Game,” The Great American Candy Bar Book (Houghton Mifflin, 1982), p. 22; Andrei Cherny, The Candy Bombers (Penguin 2008).
Today corn syrup is everywhere, especially that bugaboo, high fructose corn syrup. HFCS has the same balance of fructose and glucose as table sugar, but is immensely cheaper and so immensely more attractive to profit-seeking food processors.
Back in the early 1900s, HFCS was unknown, but corn was a huge product. Most corn went to animal feed. But war related food shortages suddenly brought corn to center stage.
Sugar shortages were impacting households as well as food makers by the end of 1917. In January 1918, industry watchers predicted that sugar use would be restricted to something like 90 percent of what was available the previous year. But candy was ready.
Walter Hughes, the secretary of the National Confectioners Association, got himself appointed to the Sugar Division of the U.S. Food Administration. When sugar conservation began to appear necessary, the candy industry had a seat at the table and made sure that candy was recognized as having food value and as being important to public morale.
And it was a good move. Candy, and other “non-essential” foods like ice cream and soda, were allotted 80 percent of their previous usages when the Food Administration began strict rationing in May 1918.
It was a serious reduction, to be sure. But candy makers had already begun working around the shortages with new formulas and new concoctions that would minimize the need for sugar. The obvious work-around was another ingredient that was sweet and tasteless: corn syrup.
‘War candies,’ containing less sugar and more corn syrup can be made widely popular. If you are going to turn out ‘war candies’ give them snappy war names and watch the result. You are going to save sugar for other purposes and in doing so disarm the current assertion that ‘candy is a luxury.’
The war was good news for corn syrup. In the early 1900s, corn syrup had been called “glucose,” and was frequently vilified as an “adulterant,” some bad stuff contaminating the candy. Sometimes this was because the accuser didn’t know what glucose actually was. But often enough, criticisms about glucose in candy were directed at new-fangled ingredients and techniques that made people suspicious. (See my post Glue-Cose for more)
The war changed all that. Now corn syrup was patriotic. Candy makers could boast that their confections were sweetened without taking from the sugar stores.
This ad for “War Special” Candies from George Close ran in Confectioners Journal in January 1918, when sugar is become tight but not yet officially rationed. Close promotes the candies as both patriotic and good business:
“By pushing these specialties you are not only performing a patriotic duty in conserving sugar, but at the same time are helping yourself and your customers to maintain a normal volume of business.”
Maltose, molasses and honey could also be used as alternative sweeteners, but corn syrup as a sugar substitute was the easiest, the most abundant, and had no taste. New formulas for things like gum drops and suckers made use of higher portions of corn syrup. And new kinds of candy ingredients using no sugar at all came on the scene: “creme” fillings and caramel bases made of corn syrup and milk products were increasingly used, as well as corn-syrup based candy coatings.
Corn syrup today is seen as cheap and inferior. But candy makers using corn syrup in 1918 were innovators responding to war-time shortages. Some Americans looked at their empty sugar bowls and pointed the finger at candy. Shut down the candy factories, they shouted, and give us back our sugar! Candy fought back to show that candy could be good and sweet, and still not use more than four percent of the total sugar output. Corn syrup kept candy in business during the shortage years, and corn syrup kept Americans eating candy.
If you’ve been following the food news, you probably know by now: we are corn. Just about every item in the meat and dairy cases, just about every ingredient in processed food, somehow begins as corn in the corn field. This is not obvious from the mind-boggling array of goods on display at your local grocery.
The corn-ification of our food supply is perhaps the most significant change in the U.S. food scene in the last hundred years. We mostly think of this as a consequence of “industrial food”: bigger and bigger food processors squeezing more and more profit out of less and less input.That’s definitely the story of the twentieth century, not just for food but for just about every commodity. Here’s an interesting twist, though: what set it all in motion wasn’t just greedy agri-business.
Corn used to be just for animals to eat. The reason humans started eating more and more corn, and more and more processed corn products, was because of the U.S. Government. Or you could even say it was because of Germany. Or imperialism. Or the ambition and folly that drives humans to war.
Don’t worry, I’ll get to the candy part. But to understand what happened to candy, you have to understand what happened to food more generally. And to understand that, you have to go back to the first World War, back to 1916.
Ironically, the stage was set for the corn take over by some very charitable motivations. It was the start of World War I. We hadn’t committed to fight yet, but our allies in England and France and Italy were under attack, and hurting. Europe was experiencing terrible food shortages, and the U.S. was at the ready to help with the bounty of amazing agricultural resources.
But by 1918, the American agricultural surplus was gone, and the U.S. had joined the war. Wheat in particular was in short supply, due to poor crops in 1917. Lower food harvests combined with desperate appeals from overseas inspired the U.S. Food Administration to launch a campaign for voluntary reductions in wheat consumption. Instead of wheat, Americans could eat corn.
There was plenty of corn to be had. The crop in 1917 was more than 3 billion bushels, and only six percent of that crop was normally used for human consumption, the rest going to feed cattle and livestock. But Americans weren’t accustomed to eating corn.
In the spring of 1917 and then in an expanded version in 1918 the American Museum of Natural History put on a Food Conservation Exhibition which aimed both to educate the public about proper nutrition and to support the war through encouraging food conservation. The exhibit was extremely successful in New York, where it traveled to various schools and civic centers through late 1917 and early 1918. It was praised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “the best food exhibit yet prepared,” and was widely emulated by other museums around the nation.
Corn wasn’t part of the original plan for the exhibit cooked up in 1915. But by 1918, Americans needed to know that corn was the food of choice for patriotic citizens supporting the war effort:
The value to the country of the corn crop is being emphasized in the food exhibit in the foyer of the Museum by presenting scores of ways in which this chief of American cereals may be used in the home. The Corn Products Refining Company has presented to the Museum twenty-two products made from corn. Among these are various starches used for jellies, puddings, pie filling, and sauces; the syrups and sugars for confectionery, preserves, jams, and jellies; and the oils used for general cooking, pastry, and salads. Great quantities of gluten and oil cake, besides corn meal, are used for feeding cattle, thus indirectly contributing to our food supply. Aside from their food value, corn products have a large place in the arts and industries. From corn oil are made leather, rubber, paints, and varnishes; the starches are used for laundry purposes, for ‘sizes’ in textile and paper industries, and for soaps an adhesives; the syrups and sugars are used in tanning, in shoe polishes, hair tonics, chewing tobacco, and in the manufacture of lactic acid and vinegar. (Am Mus Journal Oct 1917 p. 420)
Perhaps the multiple forms of corn would have eventually insinuated their way into American life anyway. The War gave corn an air of necessity and of patriotism. Corn was a good choice, corn was helping America and its Allies in the war effort.
Corn meal could take the place of wheat in the nation’s bakeries and bread baskets. In the words of Professor Graham Lusk, a food expert at Cornell University who advised on the U.S. food program as well as the AMNH Food Exhibit, “corn bread became the bread of every patriotic citizen.”
And what about candy? Sugar was in short supply and everybody, including the candy industry, was conserving. Corn had a solution there as well, a way to keep the candy coming, just as sweet: corn syrup.
In my next post, I’ll tell you more about how the WWI food shortages and rationing programs created modern candy.
Sources: The quote about corn at the exhibit is from Am Mus Journal Oct 1917 p. 420; the quote from Graham Lusk is from Lusk, “The Food Supply of our Allies,” Am Mus Journal 18.8 Dec 1918: 629-635; quote on p. 630; the quote regarding the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is from Am Mus Journal Nov. 1918 p. 623. Accounts of the Food Exhibit can be found in the Annual Reports for the American Museum of Natural History for 1917 through 1925. I consulted correspondence and clippings relating to the Food Exhibit at the AMNH Archives; my thanks to librarian Mai Qamaran for her assistance in locating relevant materials. As general background, Michael Pollan describes the ubiquity of corn in our diet in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an excellent place to start one’s food re-education.
U.S. soldiers in the nineteen-teens were distinguished by many virtues: their bravery, their manliness, and above all, for their craving for sweets.
Rations in the Army around 1916 included bread, potatoes, bacon and beans or fresh meat, cheese, coffee, tea, butter, milk, sugar, an orange or an apple, pepper, salt, and 1/4 pound sugar per day. Given such blandly nutritious fare, it wasn’t a surprise that the boys serving in the military would be glad of some candy.
In a report on military morale in 1917, Dr. Naismith, a profesor of physical education at University of Kansas, encouraged gifts of candy to accompany letters from home, in preference of “sob letters and night gowns,” typical items that Naismith called “the most worrying and useless things the boys on the border last summer received from home.” As Dr. Naismith noted, “his appetite for sweets, too, is very keen. The army ration, wholesome and nourishing, hasn’t many trimmings, so candy always is warmly welcomed by the boys.” .
The call for candy did not go unanswered. In August 1917, Wallace and Co. of Brooklyn began advertising the “Service Package” to retail dealers. This box of confection was “designed and packed for the boys” and meant to be purchased on subscription: the customer would pay, and the retailer would send out the package on a regular basis. This would be an easy sale: “We know there is nothing a soldier or sailor on active duty appreciates more than candy. His chances of buying candy for himself are very small, therefore such a gift, delivered by Uncle Sam’s Postal Department, is a most welcome addition to the service rations and a cheerful remembrance from home.” And what would the happy soldier receive in his Service Package? One package each of lemon drops, wild cherry drops, and broken candy, two rations of eating chocolate, and two packages of chewing gum, all wrapped in a box covered with inspirational images of soldiers at salute, cannons, explosions, and the American eagle.
Even before the U.S. joined the European war, the soldiers’ love of candy was a common theme. By 1915 there were reports that “one of the finest old American slang terms is about to succumb to the stern demands of war.” Where Americans used to say “taking candy from a baby,” now it would be more accurate to describe that tearful tug of war as “taking candy from a soldier.” One pundit went so far as to suggest a novel military strategy based on candy: “Put a chocolate statue of the Kaiser in the square at Berlin and our men will take it in a week” (attributed to Sir John French, British Army Inspector-General).
By 1916, confectioners were viewing the impending war with a certain optimism, as a huge marketing opportunity:
We know that a country at war does not lose its desire for confectionery. The European war has taught us however that huge standing armies consume huge quantities of candy, and it is a fact that thousands upon thousands of men who seldom if ever eat candy before, begin to crave for sweetmeats after they feel the rigors of active army life.
Before World War I, candy had been seen primarily as the province of lovers and children. No longer: the experience of war would make candy a man’s game. The market for candy created by the war was the theme of the 1916 address by R. F. Mackenzie, president of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), at the annual convention:
The world must have its sweets. As the wise man has said, ’Candy’s fair in love and war.’ The lover demands his package of bon-bons with which to propitiate his sweetheart; and the veteran of the tranches requests his strength-renewing tablet of chocolate.
As U.S. soldiers returned to civilian life in the roaring 1920s, their candy appetite propelled an enormous boom in candy invention, production, and sales. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the American candy business of today–and especially the primacy of the candy bar–is the legacy of the dough-boys ’appetite for sweets.’
Sources: “The Chocolate Soldier,” International Confectioner October 1915, p. 36; “Preparedness,” International Confectioner June 1916, p. 39; R.F. Mackenzie speech to NCA, 10 May 1916, International Confectioner May 1916, p. 41-42. Wallace and Company “Service Package” ad, International Confectioner August 1917, p. 14-15. Dr. Naismith quotation, International Confectioner June 1917, 61.
In my previous post, I shared some war-themed ads for children’s candy from the WWI era. It’s not surprising that candy makers would jump on the war bandwagon by using war imagery and themes to attract attention. But at the same time, the candy trade was also working very hard to position its product as an essential support for the war effort.
Everyone expected that war would bring rationing and scarcity. The economic viability of the candy business depended on defining candy as food, as a necessity for every day life. Candy makers used every means they could to bring this message to their customers. Here’s the copy from another ad for Zatek Eatmors, this one from 1917:
Show the children how to make an Eatmor Cannon. Zatek Milk Chocolate Eatmors will feed a whole army of hungry soldiers. Appoint one child “Quartermaster” and let him issue the “rations.” [image of chocolate stars flying out of tube/cannon, children playing with cannon and soldiers on the floor indoors, girl and boy]. The sealed Eatmor tube makes sure that each soldier receives his portion clean and fresh. The 28 or more sweet-milk-chocolate-stars are ample to go around. Their wholesome nourishment provides the necessary ’pep’ for long marches and trench warfare.
The message is cleverly double: the children are playing soldier, and the chocolate will give them “pep” for their play. But also we are meant to read this ad literally: chocolate provides real nourishment for real soldiers. Real cannons kill the enemy, of course. But chocolate cannons keep the troops going and, perhaps, win the war.
Candy, and chocolate in particular, was increasingly seen as the ideal ration under the dangers of war. As early as 1914, when the war broke out in Europe, U.S. candy makers took note of the popularity of chocolate among European armies as “a favorite emergency ration on account of its small bulk and the large amount of nutriment it contains.”
And then on in 1917 the life saving virtues of chocolate made the headlines. On June 1, two British aviators who had been shot down over the North Sea were finally rescued. They had been floating on wreckage for five days, sustained only by a small piece of chocolate which they shared. The U.S. Navy took note. In July, they announced “a new emergency ration, for issuance to the marines and sailors who may be ordered into action under circumstances which may result in their being separated for more than a day from their base of supplies. The ration will consist of biscuit and either a highly nutritious form of chocolate or peanut butter.”
By the time World War II came around, chocolate manufacturers were ready with U.S. military-approved field ration chocolate bars. But that’s another story.
Sources: “Troops and Chocolate,” International Confectioner November 1914, p. 42; “Aviators 5 Days on Wreckage Lived on a Piece of Chocolate,” New York Times, 2 June 1917; (No title: comment on Navy rations) International Confectioner August 1917, p. 57.