On This Day

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United States Army Signal Corps

On This Day: Truman Announces Food Conservation Plan

October 05, 2011 05:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On Oct. 5, 1947, in the first televised White House address, President Truman and several cabinet members, including Secretary of State George C. Marshall, asked Americans to refrain from eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays to help stockpile grain for starving people in Europe.

Truman’s Grain Conservation Speech

Following World War II, much of Europe lay in ruin, causing widespread hunger. The United States, in large part to resist the spread of communism in these areas, sought to help Europe rebuild. In June 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed a massive relief effort in Europe; the so-called Marshal Plan would take effect in April 1948.

Before the launch of the Marshall Plan, the U.S. introduced other, smaller programs to assist Europe. One such program was outlined by President Harry Truman and members of his cabinet . It was nationally broadcast on television, the first time that a White House speech had been televised.

I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries,” Truman declared. “But more than this, the food-saving program announced tonight offers an opportunity to each of you to make a contribution to the peace. We have dedicated ourselves to the task of securing a just and a lasting peace.”

Truman asked Americans to conserve food by giving up meat every Tuesday and poultry and eggs on Thursdays, and by trying to save a slice of bread every day. “The voluntary program is the best way for us to do the job. We believe that self-control is the best control. From now on, we shall be testing at every meal the degree to which each of us is willing to exercise self-control for the good of all,” Truman said.

The program was developed by the Truman administration along with the National Meat Industry Council. There was also a program proposed by Lever Brothers president Chuck Luckman that included price controls and a “national meal-planning service,” which would encourage conservation through recipe ideas and other tips, reported The New York Times.

The voluntary program did not have large effect on providing aid to Europe. Secretary of Agriculture Clint Anderson, who also spoke on Oct. 5, admitted later in the month that the program was mostly a “symbols of sacrifice” that would “get the public in the frame of mind to conserve food. … like going to church on Sunday … It’s a reminder.”

The Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan was developed in the summer of 1947 following a June 5 speech by Secretary of State George Marshall proposing a massive relief effort to Europe.

A committe of Western European nations drafted a reconstruction plan and presented to Congress, which revised the plan and passed the Economic Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan, in April 1948.

Over the next four years, the United States provided over $13 billion in loans, supplies, equipment and technical assistance to 16 European countries. In order to receive assistance, countries had to agree to implement liberal capitalist policies and expand trade with other European countries.

The Western European economy improved drastically during this time. “By the time the Marshall Plan ended in 1951, industrial production in Western Europe had risen 40 percent above the prewar level,” according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. “Trade and exports also increased far above what they were before the war. People had returned to work and their standard of living was rising. Politically, communist parties lost influence everywhere.”

The impact of the Marshall plan in this recovery has often been debated. Economist Tyler Cowen has pointed out that the countries that received the most aid grew less than those that received much less funding, and many countries’ economies did not improve until after the end of Marshall Plan funding.

The true impact of the Marshall Plan, argues James Surowiecki in the New Yorker, was that it soothed economic fears, provided much-needed stability and forced countries to pursue sound economic principles. He quotes historian David Reynolds, who says, “Marshall’s offer was … as much about reassurance as recovery.”

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