Incredibly Edible

6 Jul

Mary Frances relied heavily on egg recipes in How to Cook a Wolf. Were eggs readily available to the American consumer during World War II? Or did she put all her eggs in one basket?

Image from September 6, 1943 LIFE Magazine via Google Books.

First off, eggs were not rationed in the US during WWII. California, like other locales, did periodically experienced a fluctuation in supply due to the fact that the peak laying season is February-May. Eggs were held in cold storage in an attempt to equalize supply for the rest of the year but, again, shortages of labor, transport, storage space, and chicken feed all came into play. When available, eggs were a good source of protein and could stand in for rationed meat (more on that later). 

Poster: Get the good-- from eggs

1942 US Bureau of Economics poster via Northwestern University Library.

In 1943, 25-30 percent of the country’s egg production was anticipated to be taken for military and Lend-Lease use–much of that in the form of dehydrated eggs. When fresh eggs were not available, the dehydrated form could usually be had for home use though the dried stuff wasn’t that popular. This was in addition to the preservation method popular during World War I in which eggs were put in barrels with “water glass” (aka sodium silicate) which only works if you have a cool place for storage and the end product of which Mary Frances seemed to think was unappealing. 

Advertising dehydrated eggs in the March 8, 1943 issue of LIFE Magazine via Google Books.

Price supports for eggs (the government was required to buy up eggs to ensure prices stayed at 90% of parity when there was a surplus) were deemed necessary so that any fluctuations in consumer demand and prices wouldn’t cause farmers to kill off their laying flocks which would lead to egg shortages in future. Such is the challenge of farming and natural, fresh foods and I do understand why people tend to gravitate toward making processed foods (more things to eat later) even if the processed stuff isn’t so great for the body. In the spring of 1944 there were far too many eggs in circulation leading to a Great Egg Scandal. The government had to purchase 5,000,000 cases spending $100,000,000-$150,000,000 (the total expended included eggs for Lend-Lease as well as the costs of drying, shipping, and storing). That many of these eggs spoiled and that the eggs were not sold at a lower price to consumers, was thought particularly horrible. The glut also led to a sudden uptick in recipes featuring eggs in newspapers and magazines and desperate pleas from the government for housewives to buy an extra dozen and store them in their own refrigerators. 

7 exciting ways to use eggs

March 28, 1944 ad appearing in the Berkeley Daily Gazette via Google Books.

The Chair of the National Poultry Defense Committee urged consumers to “take full advantage of the present egg surplus and plan more menus calling for the greater use of eggs, thus encouraging farmers to maintain high production.” And, although the White House Easter Egg Roll had been on hiatus since the war started, the War Food Administration hoped that the Roll would happen in 1944 to use up some of the excess eggs. The White House still wouldn’t agree to waste food but that didn’t keep Thomas E. Dewey, the 1944 Republican candidate for president, from pointing to the surplus as evidence of inefficiencies and corruption in the Roosevelt administration. 

That’s a rambling way of saying yes, eggs were available in the US during World War II.


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