December 6, 2013
Next time you are at an all-you-can eat buffet, imagine the food displays without any covering: there are flies in the coleslaw, the man in front of you leans over the spread, breathing heavily. His nose scrunches up as though he might sneeze at any moment. You cringe, but it’s too late. Mashed potatoes are off the menu tonight.
Johnny Garneau is the reason people like this man will never sneeze on your food today.
On March 10, 1959, the restaurateur and inventor filed his patent for the “Food Service Table” later known as the “sneeze guard,” meant to protect food on display from bacteria and other germs that may be spread by sneezing. These days, it’s required by law that retail, self-service food bars have one—nary a salad bar shall be left uncovered.
At the time of his invention, he owned and ran a chain of American Style Smorgasbord restaurants in Ohio and Pennsylvania—a set price, all-you-can-eat buffet model based off of the the traditional Swedish “smorgasbord,” a celebratory meal, buffet style, with a laid-out table of food. The first example of a smorgasbord in America appeared at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Garneau’s “American Style Smorgasbord” restaurant was one of the first of many self-service restaurants that would pop up in the the United States in the ’50s.
“Being the germaphobe that he was, he couldn’t stand people going down the Smorgasbords smelling things and having their noses too close to the food,” Barbara Kelley, one of five of Garneau’s children says. “He said to his engineers, ‘We have to devise something—I don’t want these people sneezing on the food.”
When the patent was granted (for a term of 14 years), Garneau installed them in each of his restaurants. His daughter Barbara was born the year her father filed for the patent and remembers growing up in the spotless kitchens and dining rooms of her father’s businesses.
“He had that typical entrepreneur mind—he was always thinking of the next great idea.” Kelley says. These common things we use every day, somebody, somewhere had an idea and they had the guts to take it to fruition. My dad was one of them. There wasn’t one thing he thought that he couldn’t make or do.”
At 15, Garneau got a taste for the restaurant business as a “soda jerk” when he began forming dreams of his first restaurant, “The Beanery,” which opened 1949. The six-stool, 20-foot by 15-foot diner served American classics like the hot dog with curb service. By 1952, he opened his first American Style Smorgasbord restaurant.
When the smorgasbord style became less trendy, he turned each of his restaurants into steakhouses called the Golden Spike, the first of which opened in 1954. The railroad theme (there was a toy train set up at the bar that delivered your drink) came from Garneau’s interest in Promontory Summit in Utah, the point that completed of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. At the height of his business, he had six successful restaurants: four in Pittsburgh, one in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where Garneau raised his family, and one in South Florida. Garneau died in May of this year at his home in Florida at age 90.
Garneau’s invention effectively changed the standard for food safety in self-service environments. Even though there isn’t evidence of a direct causation between Garneau’s patent and food-safety initiatives, as far back as the early ’60s, the FDA regulated the presence of food shields. “The 1962 Model Food Service Sanitation Ordinance and 1976 Model Food Service Sanitation Ordinance also has very similar language,” David Steigman a communications representative of the FDA stated in an email to Smithsonian.com. “Instead of ‘salad bar food guards’, the term ‘counter protective devices’ and ‘salad bar protective devices’ were used in 1962 and 1976 respectively.” The NSF’s Food Service Equipment criteria for the design and construction for “counter guards” go as far back as 1965, and perhaps even earlier.
The most current law, the 2013 Food Code, under section 3-306.11 states that: “FOOD on display shall be protected from contamination by the use of PACKAGING; counter, service line, or salad bar FOOD guards; display cases; or other effective means.”
All 50 states have adopted food codes patterned after one of the six versions of the FDA’s model (1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, and as of last month 2013), which include requirements for protecting food on display that resemble Garneau’s original design. Though each state’s regulation remains in line with the FDA’s guidelines, it is up to state, local and tribal agencies to regulate and inspect retail food establishments. The degree of coverage and specific dimensions of “food guards” vary. New Jersey for example follows the National Sanitation Foundation Internation (NSF International) Food Guard requirements which state that a sneeze guard must be positioned 14 inches above the food counter surface and must extend seven inches beyond the edge of the utensil on which food is placed.
According to Elizabeth Dougherty, director of inventor education at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are only about 100 patents filed in the area of food storage, safety and care—a small number when you consider that there are eight million U.S. patents total. After Garneau’s patent in 1959, there have been some innovations in the field with minor changes in the original design.
“The late ’50s does seem to be the era in time when the sneeze guards started to become an object for innovation and invention,” Dougherty says. “Prior to this time, there are very few documented patents in this technology area.”
The saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” It took a Midwestern restauranteur to realize that without something to protect them, everyone’s favorite buffet foods were defenseless from the attack of a 40 mph sneeze.
November 27, 2013
Americans consume 5,062,500 gallons of jellied cranberry sauce—Ocean Spray’s official name for the traditional Thanksgiving side dish we know and love that holds the shape of the can it comes in—every holiday season. That’s four million pounds of cranberries—200 berries in each can—that reach a gel-like consistency from pectin, a natural setting agent found in the food. If you’re part of the 26 percent of Americans who make homemade sauce during the holidays, consider that only about five percent of America’s total cranberry crop is sold as fresh fruit. Also consider that 100 years ago, cranberries were only available fresh for a mere two months out of the year (they are usually harvested mid-September until around mid-November in North America making them the perfect Thanksgiving side). In 1912, one savvy businessman devised a way to change the cranberry industry forever.
Marcus L. Urann was a lawyer with big plans. At the turn of the 20th century, he left his legal career to buy a cranberry bog. “I felt I could do something for New England. You know, everything in life is what you do for others,” Urann said in an interview published in the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1959, decades after his inspired career change. His altruistic motives aside, Urann was a savvy businessman who knew how to work a market. After he set up cooking facilities at as packinghouse in Hanson, Massachusetts, he began to consider ways to extend the short selling season of the berries. Canning them, in particular, he knew would make the berry a year-round product.
“Cranberries are picked during a six-week period,” Robert Cox, coauthor of Massachusetts Cranberry Culture: A History from Bog to Table says. “Before canning technology, the product had to be consumed immediately and the rest of the year there was almost no market. Urann’s canned cranberry sauce and juice are revolutionary innovations because they produced a product with a shelf life of months and months instead of just days.”
Native Americans were the first to cultivate the cranberry in North America, but the berries weren’t marketed and sold commercially until the middle of the 18th century. Revolutionary war veteran Henry Hall is often credited with planting the first-known commercial cranberry bed in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1816, but Cox says Sir Joseph Banks, one of the most important figures of his time in British science, was harvesting cranberries in Britain a decade earlier from seeds that were sent over from the states—Banks just never marketed them. By the mid-19th century, what we know as the modern cranberry industry was in full swing and the competition among bog growers was fierce.
The business model worked on a small scale at first: families and members of the community harvested wild cranberries and then sold them locally or to a middle man before retail. As the market expanded to larger cities like Boston, Providence and New York, growers relied on cheap labor from migrant workers. Farmers competed to unload their surpluses fast—what was once a small, local venture, became a boom or bust business.
What kept the cranberry market from really exploding was a combination of geography and economics. The berries require a very particular environment for a successful crop, and are localized to areas like Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Last year, I investigated where various items on the Thanksgiving menu were grown: “Cranberries are picky when it comes to growing conditions… Because they are traditionally grown in natural wetlands, they need a lot of water. During the long, cold winter months, they also require a period of dormancy which rules out any southern region of the U.S. as an option for cranberry farming.”
Urann’s idea to can and juice cranberries in 1912 created a market that cranberry growers had never seen before. But his business sense went even further.
“He had the savvy, the finances, the connections and the innovative spirit to make change happen. He wasn’t the only one to cook cranberry sauce, he wasn’t the only one to develop new products, but he was the first to come up with the idea,” says Cox. His innovative ideas were helped by a change in how cranberries were harvested.
In the 1930s, techniques transitioned from “dry” to “wet”— a confusing distinction, says Sharon Newcomb, brand communication specialist with Ocean Spray. Cranberries grow on vines and can be harvested either by picking them individually by hand (dry) or by flooding the bog at time of harvest (wet) like what we see in many Ocean Spray commercials. Today about 90 percent of cranberries are picked using wet harvesting techniques. “Cranberries are a hearty plant, they grow in acidic, sandy soil,” Newcomb says. “A lot of people, when they see our commercials think cranberries grow in water.”
The water helps to separate the berry from the vine and small air pockets in the berries allow them to float to the surface. Rather than taking a week, you could do it in an afternoon. Instead of a team of 20 or 30, bogs now have a team of four or five. After the wet harvesting option was introduced in the mid to late 1900s, growers looked to new methods of using their crop, including canning, freezing, drying, juicing berries, Cox says.
Urann also helped develop a number of novel cranberry products, like the cranberry juice cocktail in 1933, for example, and six years later, he came up with a syrup for mixed drinks. The famous (or infamous) cranberry sauce “log” we know today became available nationwide in 1941.
Urann had tackled the challenge of harvesting a crop prone to glut and seesawing prices, but federal regulations stood in the way of him cornering the market. He had seen other industries fall under scrutiny for violating antitrust laws; in 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which was followed by additional legislation, including the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914.
In 1930, Urann convinced his competitors John C. Makepeace of the AD Makepeace company—the nation’s largest grower at the time—and Elizabeth F. Lee of the New Jersey-based Cranberry Products Company to join forces under the cooperative, Cranberry Canners, Inc. His creation, a cooperative that minimized the risks from the crop’s price and volume instability, would have been illegal had attorney John Quarles not found an exemption for agricultural cooperatives in the Capper-Volstead act of 1922, which gave “associations” making agricultural products limited exemptions from anti-trust laws.
After World War II, in 1946, the cooperative became the National Cranberry Association and by 1957 changed its name to Ocean Spray. (Fun Fact: Urann at first “borrowed” the Ocean Spray name and added the image of the breaking wave, and cranberry vines from a fish company in Washington State from which he later bought the rights). Later, Urann would tell the Associated Press why he believed the cooperative structure worked: ”grower control (which) means ‘self control’ to maintain the lowest possible price to consumers.” In theory, the cooperative would keep the competition among growers at bay. Cox explains:
From the beginning, the relationship between the three [Urann, Makepeace and Lee] was fraught with mistrust, but on the principle that one should keep one’s enemies closer than one’s friends, the cooperative pursued a canned version of the [American Cranberry Exchange] ACE’s fresh strategy, rationalizing production, distribution, quality control, marketing and pricing.
Ocean Spray still is a cooperative of 600 independent growers across the United States that work together to set prices and standards.
We can’t thank Urann in person for his contribution to our yearly cranberry intake (he died in 1963), but we can at least visualize this: If you lay out all the cans of sauce consumed in a year from end to end, it would stretch 3,385 miles—the length of 67,500 football fields. To those of you ready to crack open your can of jellied cranberry sauce this fall, cheers.
October 30, 2013
In 1971, Walt Disney World had just opened in Orlando, Florida. Led Zepplin was about to blow our minds, a prison riot had been shut down at Attica, and all across America, kids were pooping pink. Hundreds of mothers hospitalized their children for fecal testing out of fear of internal bleeding. Within that same year, not-so-coincidentally, General Mills released their classic monster cereals Count Chocula and Franken Berry. The latter was colored red using “Food, Drug and Cosmetics” (FD & C) Red No. 2 and No. 3., originally and chemically known as amaranth, a synthetic color named after the natural flower. The synthetic dye can’t be broken down or absorbed by the body.
A 1972 case study, “Benign Red Pigmentation of Stool Resulting from Food Coloring in a New Breakfast Cereal (The Franken Berry Stool),” published in Pediatrics explains the phenomenon later known as “Franken Berry Stool.” A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized for four days after being admitted for possible rectal bleeding. “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream,” Payne reports. Further questioning of the mother revealed that the child had enjoyed a bowl of Franken Berry cereal two days and one day prior to his hospitalization. By the fourth day, they did a little experiment: They fed the boy four bowls of Franken Berry cereal and for the next two days, he passed bright pink stools. But other than pink poop, there were no other symptoms, Payne reports, “Physical examination upon admission revealed [a boy] in no acute distress and with normal vital signs…Physical examination was otherwise unremarkable.”
At the time of the study, the product had only been on the market for a few weeks. The author warns that “physicians should be aware of its potential for producing reddish stools.” Other monster cereals at the time also used dyes that caused stool to change colors. Booberry, which debuted in December of 1972, for example, uses Blue No. 1 (a dye currently banned in Norway, Finland and France) and turns stool green. Apparently, green stool seems less life-threatening than the reddish hue caused by Franken Berry.
But pink poop wasn’t always the worst side effect from colored confections. Ruth Winters’s A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients details the history of commercial food dyes, including those later used in Franken Berry. At the turn of the 20th century, with virtually no regulation of more than 80 dyes used to color food, the same dyes used for clothes could also be used to color confections and other edibles.
In 1906, Congress passed the first legislation for food colors, the Pure Food and Drug Act, deeming seven colors suitable for use in food: orange, erythrosine, ponceu 3R, amaranth (the color later used in Franken Berry cereal), indigotin, naphthol yellow, and light green. Since then, upon further study, several of these choices have been delisted.
More than 20 years later, in 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which gave these colors numbers instead of chemical names—every batch needed to be certified by the Food and Drug Administration, though some problems still arose: in the fall of 1950, many children became ill from eating an orange Halloween candy containing one to two percent FD&C Orange No. 1, for example.
Red Dye No. 2, the one used by the original Franken Berry cereal, was one of the most widely used color additives at the time, until a 1971 Russian study reported that the dyes caused tumors in female rats. Years of research led the FDA to find that even though the Russian study was extremely flawed (the FDA couldn’t even prove that amaranth was one of the dyes used), the agency would remove the dye from its Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list in 1976. Between public outcry against the dye and the chance that trace elements could potentially have carcinogens, the FDA banned a number of other dyes as well. According to the FDA, 47 other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, still allow for the use of Red Dye No. 2.
That same year, Mars removed their red M&M’s from the candy-color spectrum for nearly a decade, even though Mars didn’t even use Red No. 2; the removal of the red candies was a response to the scare, livescience.com reports:
The red food coloring in question was not actually used in M&M’s chocolate candies, according to mms.com. “However, to avoid consumer confusion, the red candies were pulled from the color mix.”
Inquiries to General Mills as to when the Franken Berry ingredients switched to less poop-worrying dyes, were not responded to. These days, the only red colors accepted by the FDA are Red No. 40, which appears in all five of the General Mills monster cereals, and Red No. 3, typically used in candied fruits.
The symptoms of “Franken Berry Stool” were pretty benign compared to other more notable confectionary mishaps in history: The accidental poisoning of more than 200 people in Bradford, England in 1858 comes to mind. The sweets were accidentally made with arsenic. Let’s be thankful there’s a bit more regulation of food dyes these days.
Another stool scare in cereal history: Smurfberry Crunch Cereal, released in 1982 by Post Foods, turned the poop of those who ate it blue—the ultimate Smurfs experience. Post then changed the formula and re-released the cereal in 1987 as Magic Berries Cereal.
Looking for a sugar high now? You’re safe. When you open your celebratory, Franken Berry or any of the other monster cereals this Halloween, [for the first time, all five monsters are available in stores since the well-received re-release of Frute Brute (1975-1984) and Fruity Yummy Mummy (1987-1992)], expect a sugar high—without the pink poop aftermath. We tasted all five of the cereals and Count Chocula is the best by a long shot.
The best part is when the chocolate “sweeties,” as the marshmallows were called in the original commercials in 1971, are all gone: the plain milk becomes chocolate milk. Let’s be real, what child—or “adult”—prefers regular milk to chocolate? I haven’t met this kind of person.
September 10, 2013
The American superhighway system is dotted with some truly bizarre and unique roadside attractions. There are dinosaurs, Cadillacs stuck in the ground and kitschy souvenir stops with advertisements of questionable taste. But for those drivers with some extra time on their cross country trips, they should add these large, statue versions of everyone’s favorite foods to their itinerary. We’ve narrowed down the cornucopia of foods to 10 must-see, “World’s Largest” food-related attractions for your hypothetical (or real) adventure.
1) Strawberry—Ellerbe, North Carolina
The Berry Patch, off of old Highway 220, in Ellerbe, North Carolina, got its start as a small patch in 1995 run by the appropriately monikered Berry family. In 2002, they built the self-described “World’s Largest Strawberry” to house their homemade ice cream shop. The 24-foot tall building is made from sheet rock and polyurethane foam molded to its berry shape. There are a few other self-proclaimed largest strawberries: one worth highlighting is this 130-foot tall berry water towerin Poteet, Texas.
2) Peach—Gaffney, South Carolina
Once you hit I-85 West leaving from Charlotte, North Carolina, toward Atlanta, Georgia, look up. The world’s largest peach structure in Gaffney, South Carolina, a peach-painted water tower also known as the Peachoid, stands at 135 feet tall and holds one million gallons of liquid. The giant peach (No, James and his friends do not live inside) was commissioned by the Board of Public Works in Gaffney in 1981. The foundation used no less than 10 million gallons of concrete and the 60-foot leaf along the side of the peach weighs seven tons. As the story goes, the people of Gaffney picked the peach tower because at the time of its construction, the local economy was dependent on peach orchards. The water tower served as a (large) reminder that Georgia, known as the “Peach State,” produced fewer peaches than Cherokee County. Today, South Carolina produces over 200 million pounds of peacheson average a year, second to California. (Georgia is the third largest producer).
3) Peanut—Ashburn, Georgia
Floodlights shine on the World’s Largest Peanut located off of I-75 in Ashburn, Georgia. The peanut, which hovers above an impressive crown, was built in 1975 and designed by A.R. Smith, Jr. to honor the state’s official crop. (Georgia produces almost 50 percent of the total United States peanut crop). The monument became an official state symbolin 1998.
4) Field of Corn—Dublin, Ohio
On an acre-and-a-half plot in Dublin, Ohio, 109 concrete ears of corn stand at six feet, six inches apiece—an agricultural community in transition. Artist Malcolm Cochran, created this field of statues in 1994 as a memorial for the now-fallow corn field that once occupied the land. On this site, Sam Frantz and his family had been a leading corn hybridizer from 1935 through 1963. It’s “not unlike a cemetery —and a surprising roadside attraction in the tradition of coffee shops that look like a giant cup and saucer or diners in the shape of hamburgers,” Cochran said in an email. Head to the Osage Orange trees at the west side of the location to learn more about the town’s agricultural history.
5) Egg—Mentone, Indiana
There isn’t a whole lot to see driving through north-central Indiana, until you get to Mentone: the self-proclaimed “Egg Basket of the Midwest” and home to what the town considers the World’s Largest Egg, a 3,000-pound concrete structure in a bank parking lot near the town’s center. The structure was most likely built in 1946 to promote the Mentone Egg Show.
6) Popcorn Ball—Sac City, Iowa
In 1995, Sac City, Iowa (locally known as the “Popcorn Capital of the World”) built the first of three giant popcorn balls—a 2,225-pound mound of syrup and popcorn. That same year, a team of Boy Scouts beat the city’s record and by 1997, the original Sac City ball was blown up at the Sac County Fair. But in 2004, Sac City went at it again when a local popcorn factory made a 3,415-pound ball, currently housed in a small building off of Highway 20. When the 3,415-pound record was beaten, in 2009, construction of the latest and greatest popcorn ball weighing in at 5,000 pounds began. Two hundred fifty-three volunteers gathered in Sac County to construct the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. (Ingredient breakdown: 900 pounds of popcorn, 2,700 pounds of sugar and 1,400 pounds of Dry syrup mixed with water). It held the record until this August when a group at the Indiana State Fair, built a 6,510-pound popcorn ball, beating Sac County’s- record by 1,510 pounds, but the Indian ball was pulled apart to feed livestock at the end of the festivities. Sac City’s ball remains the largest popcorn ball still intact.
7) Watermelons—Green River, Utah and Luling, Texas
If you want to see giant melons of the water variety, you’ve got two choices: the watermelon tower in Luling, Texas and the 25-foot slice of painted wood in Green River, Utah. The water tower in Texas presides 154 feet over a watermelon patch—a tribute to the local melon industry. Each year at the Watermelon Thump festival (named for the way you thump a melon to test its ripeness), locals enter the seed spitting contest or claim the “Thump Queen” crown. Green River’s melon is less like a tower and more like a parade float. The formerly motorized melon slice makes appearances during the region’s Melon Days festival each year. Both places claim to be the watermelon capital of the United States.
8) Pistachio—Alamogordo, New Mexico
In the middle of the southern New Mexico desert, along U.S. Highway 54, a 30-foot-tall pistachio stands as a monument to Tom McGinn, founder of McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch. “I wanted to erect a proper monument that would represent his enormous passion for the creation of a pistachio farm in the bare desert,” Tim McGinn, the founder’s son, said in an interview with the Alamogordo News in 2009. The giant nut is covered in 35 gallons of paint and is anchored by nine feet of concrete. McGinn based the design off of a nut hand-selected from his crop of pistachios.
9) Donut—Inglewood, California
Homer Simpson would go bonkers for this roadside sculpture built in 1954. You may recognize the massive pastry on top of Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood, California from Randy Newman’s video “I Love LA,” or from the film Mars Attacks. The drive-in style building, designed by Henry J. Goodwin in 1953 has several locations in the area—four of the original giant donuts survive, most of which were constructed with a 32 and one fifth-foot diameter. A fun thing about a giant donut: sometimes, you can throw basketballs through its center.
10) Artichoke—Castroville, California
Castroville, California, is the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World” and the 20-foot tall artichoke made of rebar and concrete built in 1963 by Ray Bei, founder of Ray Bei’s Giant Artichoke Restaurant and Fruit Stand, is a stunning reminder of the region’s main crop. A pit stop here offers artichokes prepared pretty much any way you can imagine, though fried is probably your best bet. The annual artichoke festival takes place in May to celebrate the Monterey Bay County’s famous food. Fun fact: in 1948—11 years before the festival began—a young starlet named Norma Jean, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was crowned the first Artichoke Queen in Castroville. The sash she wore is now on display in the Castroville Chamber of Commerce.
August 13, 2013
The science is pretty sound that carrots, by virtue of their heavy dose of Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), are good for your eye health. A 1998 Johns Hopkins study, as reported by the New York Times, even found that supplemental pills could reverse poor vision among those with a Vitamin A deficiency. But as John Stolarczyk knows all too well as curator of the World Carrot Museum, the truth has been stretched into a pervasive myth that carrots hold within a super-vegetable power: improving your night-time vision. But carrots cannot help you see better in the dark any more than eating blueberries will turn you blue.
“Somewhere on the journey the message that carrots are good for your eyes became disfigured into improving eyesight,” Stolarczyk says. His virtual museum, 125 pages full of surprising and obscure facts about carrots, investigates how the myth became so popular: British propaganda from World War II.
Stolarczyk is not confident about the exact origin of the faulty carrot theory, but believes that it was reinforced and popularized by the Ministry of Information, an offshoot of a subterfuge campaign to hide a technology critical to an Allied victory.
During the 1940 Blitzkrieg, the Luftwaffe often struck under the cover of darkness. In order to make it more difficult for the German planes to hit targets, the British government issued citywide blackouts. The Royal Air Force were able to repel the German fighters in part because of the development of a new, secret radar technology. The on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI), first used by the RAF in 1939, had the ability to pinpoint enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel. But to keep that under wraps, according to Stolarczyk’s research pulled from the files of the Imperial War Museum, the Mass Observation Archive, and the UK National Archives, the Ministry provided another reason for their success: carrots.
In 1940, RAF night fighter ace, John Cunningham, nicknamed “Cat’s Eyes”, was the first to shoot down an enemy plane using AI. He’d later rack up an impressive total of 20 kills—19 of which were at night. According to “Now I Know” writer Dan Lewis, also a Smithsonian.com contributor, the Ministry told newspapers that the reason for their success was because pilots like Cunningham ate an excess of carrots.
The ruse, meant to send German tacticians on a wild goose chase, may or may not have fooled them as planned, says Stolarczyk.
“I have no evidence they [the Germans] fell for it, other than that the use of carrots to help with eye health was well ingrained in the German psyche. It was believed that they had to fall for some of it,” Stolarczyk wrote in an email as he reviewed Ministry files for his upcoming book, tentatively titled How Carrots Helped Win World War II. “There are apocryphal tales that the Germans started feeding their own pilots carrots, as they thought there was some truth in it.”
Whether or not the Germans bought it, the British public generally believed that eating carrots would help them see better during the citywide blackouts. Advertisements with the slogan “Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout” (like the one pictured below) appeared everywhere.
But the carrot craze didn’t stop there—according to the Food Ministry, when a German blockade of food supply ships made many resources such as sugar, bacon and butter unavailable, the war could be won on the “Kitchen Front” if people changed what they ate and how they prepared it. In 1941, Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, emphasized the call for self-sustainability in the garden:
“This is a food war. Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping. The battle on the kitchen front cannot be won without help from the kitchen garden. Isn’t an hour in the garden better than an hour in the queue?”
That same year, the British Ministry of Food launched a Dig For Victory Campaign which introduced the cartoons ”Dr. Carrot” and “Potato Pete”, to get people to eat more of the vegetables (bread and vegetables were never on the ration during the war). Advertisements encouraged families to start “Victory Gardens” and to try new recipes using surplus foods as substitutes for those less available. Carrots were promoted as a sweetener in desserts in the absence of sugar, which was rationed to eight ounces per adult per week. The Ministry’s “War Cookery Leaflet 4″ was filled with recipes for carrot pudding, carrot cake, carrot marmalade and carrot flan. Concoctions like “Carrolade” made from rutabagas and carrots emerged from other similar sources.
Citizens regularly tuned into radio broadcasts like “The Kitchen Front“, a daily, five-minute BBC program that doled out hints and tips for new recipes. According to Stolarczyk, the Ministry of Food encouraged so much extra production of the vegetable that by 1942, it was looking at 100,000 ton surplus of carrots.
Stolarczyk has tried many of the recipes including Woolton Pie (named for Lord Woolton), Carrot Flan and Carrot Fudge. Carrolade, he says, was one of the stranger ideas.
“The Ministry of Food had what I call a ‘silly ideas’ section where they threw out crazy ideas to see what would stick—this was one of those,” he says. “At the end of the day, the people were not stupid. If it tasted horrible, they tended to shy away.”
Dr. Carrot was everywhere—radio shows, posters, even Disney helped out. Hank Porter, a leading Disney cartoonist designed a whole family based on the idea of Dr. Carrot—Carroty George, Pop Carrot and Clara Carrot—for the British to promote to the public.
Dr. Carrot and Carroty George had some competition in the U.S., however—from wise-guy carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny, born around the same time. While Bugs served his own role in U.S. WWII propaganda cartoons, the connection between his tagline, “What’s up Doc?,” and the UK’s “Dr. Carrot” is probably just a coincidence.