Rural History 2015

Panel 25

Organizers: Langthaler, Ernst (1)

Affiliation: 1: Institute of Rural History, Austria

Title: Feeding and Starving the Nation in WWI

The First World War has often been termed a – if not the first – ‘total war’. The ‘total’ character of this conflict can be seen most clearly in the domain of food production, distribution and consumption: Food also became a weapon of warfare, both in military and civilian terms. How combatant nations succeeded in feeding their own populations and those of their allies – and in starving the populations of ‘enemy’ and other nations – was most decisive for collective and individual food security. In dealing with food provision, at least two alternative approaches can be found in the literature: Whereas the (Neo )Malthusian food-availability approach explains food scarcity as a production problem, advocates of the food-entitlement approach basically conceive it as a distribution problem. Even in case of adequate availability of foodstuffs, certain groups may be exposed to famine due to inadequate legitimate access – or, to use Sen’s term, ‘entitlement’ – to food via endowments and exchanges. The bundle of food entitlements of a person or group is structured by property, power and class relations, intersected by gender, age, ethnicity etc.; thus, undernourishment may be driven by resource-poverty, disempowerment and exploitation. Crucial elements include the size and composition of one’s resource base, the regulation by informal (e.g. customs of inheritance) and formal institutions (e.g. food administration) and impacts by system-related trends (e.g. migration from rural to urban areas) and shocks (e.g. war-related casualties). Food entitlements become effective through the actors’ livelihood strategies, both legal and illegal, which may raise or drop the level of individual and collective food security, therefore enhancing resilience or vulnerability to famine. From this perspective, the panel seeks to address the ways rural and urban populations got – or did not get – access to food along the agro-food chain of production, distribution and consumption in wartime Europe and beyond. In-depth case studies are as welcome as comparative and interconnected studies.



Chair: Peter Moser, Archives of Rural History, Switzerland

Discussant: Nadine Vivier, University of Le Mans, France

Paper 1: Production or Distribution Failure? Austria-Hungary's Food Consumption Crisis in the First Wold War [+]

Ernst Langthaler, Institute of Rural History, Austria

Paper 2: Food Supply during the First World War. The Transformations of the French State [+]

Alain Chatriot, CRH CNRS EHESS and GDRI CRICEC, France

Paper 3: The Battle for Food in Neutral Switzerland? Food Supply in the Swiss Border Region of Basel [+]

Maria Meier, University of Lucerne, Switzerland


Suggested deadline for sending completed papers 31 july 2015

© 2014 Rural History 2015