War & Food – About Hunger, Conflicts, and Good Stories

All about war and food
The Feast of Valhalla – Valhalla (1905) by Emil Doepler. Source — Wikipedia

Welcome to Valhalla

If you fall bravely in war, the Valkyries, beautiful battle-maidens who collect the soul of the noble dead, will take you and bring you to the hall known as Valhalla. He will be waiting for you in Valhalla, and there you will drink and fight and feast and battle, with Odin as your leader.

– Neil Gaiman, introducing Odin, in Norse Mythology.

And their dinners did not disappoint. Meat from Saehrimnir, that comes back to life every time he is slaughtered. Mead from the udder of the goat Heidrun, that never runs dry. Endless quality of exceptional food and drinks.

Such was life at Valhalla. If killed in the face of valour, you could expect a seat at Valhalla, irrespective, of whom you fought for.

Operation Vittles

World War and the Berlin Blockade
A thank you note that a German child wrote to a Candy Bomber (photo credit: Houston Chronicle

The Berlin Blockade was one of the first major international crises after the World War. A blockade by the Soviets had cut all access to food and resources. There were widespread hunger and deprivation. This was countered by the Western Allies with the Berlin Airlift. An operation to restore Berlin to normalcy.

But there was one thing that was missing, though.

War-time Candies

Gail Halvorsen, a US Air Force pilot, saw a bunch of children who yearned for the taste of candies. He gave them a pack of gum and promised to return the next day.

The next day, Halvorsen began dropping chocolate with handkerchiefs as little parachutes. The plane would do a small wiggle of the wings so that the kids would recognize him and expect the chocolate rain.

Germans were moved and everyone loved this.

American Confectioners Association soon filled planes that were earlier carrying bombs, with candy.

Halvorsen got the nickname of Uncle Wiggly Wings.

Baguette, M&Ms, Cheetos

Photo by Ivan J. Long from Pexels

The Baguette was developed so that the French soldiers could easily carry the bread in the legs of their trousers.

M&Ms were made to exclusively for the US army and was made available to civilians after the war and the sugar ban was lifted.

Cheetos was an invention to have a full-fat dehydrated cheese, to reduce the weight of shipments. Energy bars, TV dinners, Canned food — all same.

War & Food

Children in Vietnam During the War

Much of the cuisine that we enjoy today under various names — came to us through War. Carried on ships, by the army, by the people and so on.

Soldiers were the first ones to get a taste of local cuisine. The first place to see the impact was generally, Military Canteens. Once back from the war, the soldiers would introduce their favourite dishes back home and to the local public.

Changing Perspectives

Often we learn about war, through the lens of victory, violence, and power. But even in those grim situations, there are shining beacons of stories that teach us about the undoubted human connection that food creates.

In fact, the Chinese New Year is a delight to learn about when seen through the conflict of villagers with the demon Nian. Food can teach about geography, greed, customs, culture, and beliefs — while teaching about diversity. It teaches about ingenuity and innovation.

I would love to see children being taught about war, through stories of food. It is one of the best ways to reinforce good faith and belief in the humankind, that might soon be in a dearth.


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