The Best-Feeding Merchant Marine in the World

War Shipping Administration, Food Control Division. Cooking and Baking on Shipboard. Washington: GPO, 1945. 358pp.

The Food Control Division of the War Shipping Administration (the agency that oversaw Merchant Marine ships during WWII) published several books about managing food and cooking while at sea. Though I don’t use it much for recipes (they all serve 100), I have a copy of one of them, Cooking and Baking on Shipboard. Published in 1945, it is full of bland food and remarkable illustrations of butchery. Pages and pages of how to cut up a cow. Followed by pages and pages of how to cut up a pig. And then a couple of recipes for biscuits and mashed potatoes thrown in for good measure. In the earnest letter that accompanies the book, Harold J. O’Connell (Director, Food Control) explains that it provides “the most up-to-date and efficient suggestions for planning and making better meals,” exactly what the stewards, cooks, and bakers need to run “the best-feeding Merchant Marine in the world:”

What Mr. O’Connell doesn’t say is that being the “best-feeding Merchant Marine” appears to have involved a lot of beef and some creepy illustrations. In the spread below, our friend the cow has been enlisted to point out his “less-tender” cuts and how best to use them. He seems so happy! He’s gleefully pointing at the butchery chart while rubbing shoulders with the captain and the cook! He’s even (in the lower left corner) carrying a box of “WSA Beef,” looking pleased as punch to play his part. Is he happy that it’s not him not cut up into tiny pieces in that box? Or is he just thrilled that the WSA likes beef? Hard to say.

The chicken in this next illustration doesn’t look quite so happy, unfortunately. It does, however, provide a fascinating look at the changes in chicken anatomy over the last sixty years. Aside from the fact that this chicken still has its head and feet, unlike its neatly packaged modern supermarket counterpart, this chicken is clearly different. Just look at its breasts: small and seemly. Not at all the puffed up, bloated chicken breasts that are de rigeur today. The legs clearly have at least as much meat, if not more, than the breasts! For an idea of just how much things have changed, look at this. It’s as if someone took the chicken below and blew it up with a bicycle pump. Yuck.

More publications of the War Shipping Administration: How to Keep Food Records on Shipboard; How to Stow and Take Care of Food on Shipboard.

3 comments to The Best-Feeding Merchant Marine in the World

  • Sue G.

    Wow, weird. There was so much of this cartoon personification back then. War time makes people a little strange all around, I guess. Interesting post.

  • Deuce Diaz

    I have one of these cookbook and I don’t know what to do with it. Can someone help me decide if I should sell it or give it to a Library?

  • Fany L.

    Does Deuce Díaz still has her book? I have been looking this cookbook for my husband. Please let me know.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>