• Jocette Lee

Dehydration Innovation.


Dehydrated foods. Top war agency officials lunch on dehydrated foods--the kind of food that is being sent overseas to save shipping space. The luncheon was arranged on November 6, 1942 in the Social Security Building by Lee Marshall, Food Consultant to Mr. Nelson, to acquaint war agency officials with the progress that has been made in this country in the field of dehydrated foods.

On November 6, 1942 a luncheon gathering was facilitated to discuss the success of dehydrated foods used abroad during the Second World War. Lee Marshall, the War Production Board food consultant, arranged the meeting to brief the other war agency officials on information about the wild success of the product. As identified in the picture description provided by the Library of Congress, dehydrated and “dried foods resulted in savings of up to eighty percent in volume and up to ninety percent in weight.”[1]

The black and white photograph positioned above is titled “Dehydrated Foods” and captures a snapshot of elite World War II agency officials eating together at the luncheon and presumably discussing food supplies. The luncheon was held in the Social Security Building in Washington D.C.[2] Sitting at the table are the following, starting from left to right, Leon Henderson, Price Administrator; Donald M. Nelson, Chairman of the War Production Board (WPB); Brigadier General Carl Hardigg, Office of the Quartermaster General; and William Batt, WPB Vice Chairman.[3]

President Franklin Roosevelt formed the War Production Board in January of 1942 as an interim agency to regulate wartime necessities.[4] The creation of this agency replaced the roles of Supply Priorities and Allocation Board and the Office of Production Management.[5] Roosevelt gave the WPB complete power to transfer civilian efforts for domestic production into wartime manufacture. [6] The agency consisted of various departments such as agriculture, economy and warfare. While there is not much information on the role of food consultant, one can imagine the responsibilities of this role during the war. Pitching new ideas and products for feeding the troops would be a top priority for someone in this position.

From a descriptive standpoint, the photo captures a circular table with five men partaking in a meal. There is one empty place setting closest to the photographer. Behind the front table, there is an additional huddle of men sitting around a lunch table. The room does not seem grand; there is one window, which does not appear to be emitting light. The meal must have consisted of many courses as identified by the abundant amount of silverware at the place settings. The only distinguishable food items on the table are glasses of milk, glasses of water, bread rolls, salt and pepper. The poor photo quality prevents the discernment of other components of the meal.

This photo, amongst many others sits in the government collection titled “Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection.”[7] Taken at the onset of World War II, the objective of this documentation was to record major events in the development of war technology and advancements. The use and improvement of dehydrated food made significant impact on military efforts during the war thus this meal marks a strategic victory for the American forces.

According to the picture description, the officials are eating reconstituted dehydrated food.[8] The luncheon pictured above was facilitated for the purpose of discussing the success of the technology, while also allowing the officials to sample the diet. After analyzing the photo and making observations about the meal, a series of questions come to mind. What does this food taste like? Was the success of dehydrated food measured by efficiency or by flavor? Simply, was dehydrated food delicious to consume?

Dehydration of food is an old and developed method of food preservation with origins linking back to ancient Mesopotamia; WWII provided a new setting for the method to be developed further.[9] By removing water weight from produce, meat and dairy, a considerable amount of weight was saved when shipping supplies and products abroad.[10] Due to the need for wartime efficiencies and nutritious calories for the soldiers, dehydrated food was an ideal solution because the process of dehydration preserved almost all nutrients in the product.[11]

Once WWII agency officials realized that dehydrated foods could shrink to about one-fifteenth (1/15) of the original product size while also retaining nutritious content, a rush in production was initiated.[12] While sun and salt were the primary tools used to dry food in ancient times, modern techniques implement circulation of hot air, a technique established by the French in the 1700s.[13] The dehydration process can be applied to fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, fish and meat products.[14]

However, from a taste perspective, it would be hard to imagine that the early attempts to mass-produce dehydrated foods would be full of flavor. It would prove difficult for products such as dehydrated broccoli or fish to satisfy the palate. Fruits might have proven to be a tastier dehydrated snack due to sugar content however other dehydrated products were bland and lacking flavor.[15] Like most aspects of the military, utility and efficiency of the product was the primary consideration when determining the success of dehydrated food.

The hype and excitement surrounding this efficient technology distracted the developers from considering or focusing on the flavor of the products. This is a detail not discussed and improved upon until research developed years later. After the Second World War ended, the dehydrated food market was redirected to the American populace.[16] With the redirection towards a different customer base, flavor and product development research was initiated to sustain business production.

The creativity of wartime food supplies continues to influence current American food culture as seen through the continuation of dehydrated foods present in the diets of many modern Americans.

Bibliography

< >Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Dehydration," accessed March 22, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/156046/dehydration. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Dehydrated foods. 1942. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/oem2002005244/PP/Food dehydrators blog. http://fooddehydrators.blog.com/2011/09/07/dehydrated-food-a-brief-history/.

< >Oklahoma Historical Society: Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, "War Production Board." Last modified 2007. Accessed March 22, 2014. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/W/WA021.html.

[1] Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Dehydrated foods.

[2] Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Dehydrated foods.

[3] Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Dehydrated foods.

[4] "War Production Board." Last modified 2007. Accessed March 22, 2014. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/W/WA021.html.

[5] "War Production Board."

[6] "War Production Board."

[7] Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Dehydrated foods.

[8] Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Dehydrated foods.

[9] “Dehydration," accessed March 22, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/156046/dehydration.

[10] “Dehydration."

[11] “Dehydration."

[12] “Dehydration."

[13] “Dehydration."

[14] “Dehydration."

[15] Mikeh, Dehydrated Food: A Brief History, September 7, 2011, http://fooddehydrators.blog.com/2011/09/07/dehydrated-food-a-brief-history/.

[16] Mikeh, Dehydrated Food: A Brief History, September 7, 2011, http://fooddehydrators.blog.com/2011/09/07/dehydrated-food-a-brief-history/.



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