Published: 5 February 2023
via the We Are The Mighty web site
“Food Patriotism” in World War I America
When German immigrants came to America, they brought the traditional staples of the German dinner table with them. Beer, sausages, and sauerkraut became almost overnight sensations. Then came World War I, and although Americans weren’t ready to completely give up these delicacies from across the River Rhine, they were going to give them a name change.
Of all the foods most closely associated with German cuisine, one stands out above them all: sauerkraut. Sauerkraut was not created in Germany (it actually dates back to ancient Chinese cooking), many would argue the Germans perfected it and made it their own anyway. Its long history didn’t keep it from being a target of outrage during the First World War.
When the United States entered World War I, the U.S. entry came after a number of significant German provocations and that triggered a backlash. In 1915, German submarines sank the British steamer Lusitania, killing 123 Americans. The U.S. threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with the German Empire if they continued their campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans agreed to stop.
Finally in 1917, British spies intercepted a communique from Germany to Mexico expressing support for a Mexican invasion in the American Southwest. This note, now known as the Zimmermann Telegram, was published in the American press. Combined with an announcement that Germany would resume its submarine warfare without regard for the nationality of passengers, the United States finally declared war on the Central Powers.
At home, areas with the largest German immigrant populations expressed the largest anti-German sentiment. It was now unpatriotic to be of German descent. German-language newspapers folded, schools stopped teaching the language and even city names were changed to sound less German. Then, they came for the German food.
Unwilling to actually stop eating German food, they simply changed the names of the most common foods so they sounded more patriotic. Hamburgers suddenly became “Liberty Steak,” frankfurters became “Liberty Sausage,” and sauerkraut was now referred to as “Liberty Cabbage.”
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