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The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: Fighting with vegetables

10 August 2014

8:00 AM

10 August 2014

8:00 AM

Under the heading ‘How can I help?’, The Spectator of 8 August 1914 advised young men on the process of joining the army, and suggested that older men try the Red Cross or a rifle club, with the warning: ‘The rifle club should only be for those who by age and want of training are not able to do anything better. By joining or forming rifle clubs they might, however, in the end be able to do most useful work.’ It concluded with the following advice for women:

‘We have kept to the last the answer to the question put by patriotic Englishwomen as to how they can help. Here, again, we are not going to talk vague generalities about encouraging their menfolk and helping them to stand the strain of war and to show a proper spirit. We are refraining from giving that advice, not because we think it unsound, but because it is not in the least necessary. They will do that without us or any anybody else preaching to them. Over and beyond this there is a tremendous amount of practical work which they can do. In the first place, there is the Red Cross work. We are thankful to say that already there is a splendid Red Cross organization throughout the land, embracing, we believe, something like seventy thousand people. It can be quickly expanded from its thousand or more centres. Every woman who gets a Red Cross training, even of a very elementary sort, benefits directly thereby even if she never has an opportunity of using her skill and knowledge on an actual war case. Those who are too much occupied to do Red Cross work can also do a great deal by helping in what we may call the conservation of national energy and national wealth. The women are the buyers for the nation, and they are the organizers and controllers of what is economically by far the most important thing in the nation – the family. At this moment, and with a future that is dark and precarious, the avoidance of waste and the unnecessary using up of the national resources is essential. It would be impossible to exaggerate the benefit which would accrue to the nation if every woman responsible for a household and her family were determined that, though her family should be as well fed and looked after as before, there should be absolutely no waste.

‘Nobody wants to throw anybody else out of work by unnecessary discharges, or by the sudden cutting off of legitimate expenditure on ordinary luxuries or even amusements, but there may be good management in small things as well as in great. If there were no waste in the households of England of bread, of meat, and of milk, the national supplies would last far longer and so our security be far greater, than they will if there is waste. Miss Loane in one of her books points out how out of pure heedlessness enough bread is often wasted each week in poor households in England to supply a Continental family. Nobody wants people to starve themselves, but merely to eat up what they have got ready for food rather than throw it away. And this thriftiness may play its part in middle-class and rich households quite as well as in poor ones. Our womenfolk can easily remind us, and can easily prove for themselves, that man does not live by butchers’ meat alone, and that there is hardly a household in which a temporary reduction in the amount of butchers’ meat consumed would not be perfectly consistent with the maintenance of health and strength by its members. Nobody of course, desires the whole nation to suddenly become vegetarian. What, however, we would ask the women of England to remember is that whole vegetarians do not starve, but are often better for their regime, and, further, that half vegetarians, or quarter vegetarians, or three-quarter vegetarians are in all probability much better nourished than the large meat-eaters. On this subject we shall, however, have something more to say in detail at a later date.’

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