The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food

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A New York Times Notable Book of 2012

Food, and in particular the lack of it, was central to the experience of World War II. In this richly detailed and engaging history, Lizzie Collingham establishes how control of food and its production is crucial to total war. How were the imperial ambitions of Germany and Japan - ambitions which sowed the seeds of war - informed by a desire for self-sufficiency in food production? How was the outcome of the war affected by the decisions ...

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Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book of 2012

Food, and in particular the lack of it, was central to the experience of World War II. In this richly detailed and engaging history, Lizzie Collingham establishes how control of food and its production is crucial to total war. How were the imperial ambitions of Germany and Japan - ambitions which sowed the seeds of war - informed by a desire for self-sufficiency in food production? How was the outcome of the war affected by the decisions that the Allies and the Axis took over how to feed their troops? And how did the distinctive ideologies of the different combatant countries determine their attitudes towards those they had to feed?

Tracing the interaction between food and strategy, on both the military and home fronts, this gripping, original account demonstrates how the issue of access to food was a driving force within Nazi policy and contributed to the decision to murder hundreds of thousands of 'useless eaters' in Europe. Focusing on both the winners and losers in the battle for food, The Taste of War brings to light the striking fact that war-related hunger and famine was not only caused by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, but was also the result of Allied mismanagement and neglect, particularly in India, Africa and China.

American dominance both during and after the war was not only a result of the United States' immense industrial production but also of its abundance of food. This book traces the establishment of a global pattern of food production and distribution and shows how the war subsequently promoted the pervasive influence of American food habits and tastes in the post-war world. A work of great scope, The Taste of War connects the broad sweep of history to its intimate impact upon the lives of individuals. 

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Editorial Reviews

THE GUARDIAN (UK)
“Ambitious, compelling, fascinating”
The Wall Street Journal
In Ms. Collingham's sweeping international history embracing high politics and local realities, we see the critical importance of food—and its pursuit—for the major combatant nations. The interconnectivity of the global food trade; the dependence of most of the combatants on food imports; the draining of resources necessary for food production, transportation and distribution; and the inescapable dependence of humanity on a minimum daily caloric intake—all made "the battle for food" not just an economic but a strategic and social one as well. On every level and at every stage, from the conflict's origins and execution to the policies toward civilians and prisoners of war, World War II was influenced by the struggle to control agricultural resources.
The Nation
Examining in detail the role played by food in the greatest of all political conflicts, the Second World War, was a brilliant idea on Collingham's part. The Taste of War is breathtaking in its breadth and scope, global in coverage and yet anchored in detailed research.
Richard Overy
“Every now and again a book comes along that transforms our understanding of a subject that had previously seemed so well worn and familiar.  That is the measure of Lizzie Collingham's achievement in this outstanding global account of the role played by food (and its absence) during the Second World War.  It will now be impossible to think of the war in the old way.”
Andrew Roberts
“Fascinating…After this book, no historian will be able to write a comprehensive history of the Second World War without putting the multifarious issues of food production and consumption centre stage.”
Max Hastings
“Lizzie Collingham's book possesses the notable virtue of originality...[She] has gathered many strands to pursue an important theme across a global canvas. She reminds us of the timeless truth that all human and political behaviour is relative.”
Diane Purkiss
“Powerful and important”
Library Journal
The role of food during World War II? It sounds specialized, but consider: 20 million people died during the war from starvation or malnutrition alone, equal to the number of military deaths. The Nazis set about eliminating "useless eaters." British rationing worked at home, but wholly preventable famine killed millions in India. And though America's food production remained strong, it was at this time that our "fast-food nation" got its start. Intriguing for informed readers.
Kirkus Reviews
A comprehensive evaluation of the crucial role of the global food economy in the waging of war.

The starvation policy of the Nazi occupiers and the wartime exigencies that effectively transformed the diet as we know it are only two important aspects to this fascinating, authoritative work on food and war. In order to keep an army running smoothly and the civilian population pacified, writes Collingham (Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers, 2006, etc.), a government had to control the food supply. This was equally true of Britain, Germany, Japan and the U.S., though it played out very differently during World War II. Creating a National Socialist empire relied on becoming self-sufficient, especially after the legacy of hunger and defeat wrought by World War I. According to Herbert Backe's Hunger Plan, occupation of the Ukrainian breadbasket would deliver the resources to Germany only if the flow of food could be shut down to Russian cities, thus starving 30 million Soviet citizens (also Jews, indigenous inhabitants and prisoners of war). In the throes of an agricultural crisis, Japan was more reliant on imports from its colonies Formosa and Korea and later suffered starvation during the American blockade; moreover, the white-rice-based diet provided insufficient protein for the Japanese troops, and a more Chinese and Western diet was adopted. Britain relied heavily on its colonies to feed the wartime appetite, as well as on U.S. lend-lease supplies, only suffering from want during the winter of 1940-41 because of the U-boat blockade. Indeed, American farmers supplied the bounty of global wartime needs and also offered ample food at home. Collingham study casts a staggeringly large net. She examines terrible famines in Bengal and Greece, the Soviet ability to withstand starvation, the role of the black market and how nutritional science reshaped the diet of soldiers and civilians.

A definitive work of World War II scholarship.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203299
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/29/2012
  • Pages: 656
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Lizzie Collingham is the author of Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj and Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Having taught history at Warwick University she became a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge. She is now an independent scholar and writer. She has lived in Australia, France, and Germany and now lives near Cambridge with her husband and small daughter.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2012

    Taste of War

    This book provides vital insite to the cause and effect of food, starvation and the importance of maintaining a sound agricultural base within the United States.
    Tammera Karr PhD

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