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October 8, 2012

Area saw meatless Tuesdays, 'Chickless' Thursdays in 1947

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The Daily Star

---- — This marks column No. 1,200, with plenty more where they came from. Over the years I’m sure a few topics have gotten some cackles and clucks from readers, but as I’ve always said, it is local history and it happened, for better or worse. Cackles and clucks aside, I’m sure none of yours were as bad as they got in late 1947 under the President Harry S. Truman White House.

No meat on Tuesday, no poultry or eggs on Thursday, and saving a slice of bread each day. That was a request of the American people from President Harry S. Truman in an address to the nation on Sunday night, Oct. 5, 1947. It was a historic broadcast, because it was the first presidential address to be televised in addition to being aired on radio. The call for conservation of food was made to provide the shipments needed to prevent starvation and suffering in Europe in the coming winter.

While there was some enthusiastic response to the call, there was also plenty of grumbling about such a request, especially by farmers. Europe was still recovering from World War II and had endured “misfortunes of nature” during the year, in the forms of drought, floods and cold, resulting in failed crops. In the U.S., the economy was enduring inflation, so the president felt that conserving food would foster lower prices.

President Truman said of Europe, “Their most urgent need is food. If the peace should be lost because Americans failed to share their food with hungry people there would be no more tragic example in all history of a peace needlessly lost.”

The Binghamton Press reported that on the first meatless Tuesday, Oct. 7, there was nearly no compliance by restaurants and hotel dining rooms in Binghamton and Johnson City. In Endicott, 90 percent of the restaurants were complying with no meat courses, including the cafeterias of IBM and Endicott-Johnson.

That same day, The Oneonta Star reported that after a survey of restaurants was taken, 16 of 19 places were serving meat. While most admitted they hadn’t thought about Truman’s request, one proprieter said, “If I don’t serve meat, I might as well close the doors.”

Meanwhile, the Star reported on Thursday, Oct. 9 that the Abraham H. Kellogg School in Treadwell had gone “all out” to support the Truman plan.

“Lawrence H. Gallagher, supervising principal, who told students that ‘Europe is starving,’ said that indications are…that all students at Kellogg school have voluntarily signed pledge cards.” The school would serve no meat on Tuesdays, no poultry on Thursdays, and no bread and butter at any time.

While foods were being sent to the suffering countries in Europe, a lot of it wasn’t being used. Prof. Oscar Junek of New York University spoke to the faculty and students of Triple Cities College on Tuesday, Oct. 14. This was a forerunner to today’s Binghamton University, then found in Endicott.

“Much of the food already sent abroad by this country has been wasted because the people who got it didn’t know how to prepare it or couldn’t eat it,” Junek said. “Powdered eggs have been used by the Greeks as house paint and soap, but almost never as food.”

The New York Times reported that on one Meatless Tuesday, housewives in Michigan and Vermont were spotted crossing the Canadian border to shop for beef and pork. Imported meats from Canada were showing up in upstate New York markets.

Those complying with Meatless Tuesdays and “Chickless” Thursdays, while perhaps doing some good, weren’t doing any favors to poultry farmers. When consumers weren’t buying poultry, chickens were just eating more grain that could be shipped to Europe. The farmers had been sending telegrams and other evidence of their dissatisfaction to the president.

Poultry farmers, including Thomas Albright of Athens, Greene County, had shipped crates of live chickens to the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 5. By Friday, the Washington, D.C. based Citizens Food Committee announced that effective immediately it was all right to eat poultry on Thursdays again, although the “voluntary ban” on egg consumption on those days would continue.

President Truman continued to comply with the egg ban, even on Thanksgiving Day, when there was no pumpkin pie at the White House, a Truman tradition, as pumpkin pie contained eggs.

The food conservation policy in that fall of 1947 made a quiet exodus before the end of the year. The New York Times post-mortem was unforgiving, terming the policy a “colossal misappraisal of human nature.”

This weekend: various local news items from the fall of 1912.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.