The only government program ever to cause a lasting change in the American diet was the organ meat push of the 1940s

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

America found itself short of meat, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), as World War 2 kicked into gear — but not all meat:

At the time, organ meat wasn’t popular in America. A middle-class woman in 1940 would sooner starve than despoil her table with tongue or tripe. So when the scientists recruited into the Committee on Food Habits met for the first time in 1941, they set themselves a goal of systematically identifying the cultural barriers that discouraged Americans from eating organ meat.


For instance, when the Subsistence Division of the Quartermaster Corps — the people in charge of feeding soldiers — started serving fresh cabbage to troops in 1943, it was rejected. So mess halls chopped and boiled the cabbage until it looked like every other vegetable on a soldier’s tray — and the troops ate it without complaint.


The secret to changing the American diet, the Committee on Food Habits concluded, was familiarity. Soon, housewives were receiving mailers from the government telling them “every husband will cheer for steak and kidney pie.” Butchers started handing out recipes that explained how to slip liver into meatloaf.


One study indicated that offal consumption rose by 33 percent during the war. By 1955, it was up 50 percent. Kidney had become a staple at dinner. Liver was for special occasions. America’s dining patterns had shifted to such a degree that organ meats had become emblems of comfort.


To date, the only government program ever to cause a lasting change in the American diet was the organ meat push of the 1940s.


  1. Goober says:

    Eh, I’d disagree that this is the only example of causing lasting change to the American diet.

    What about saturated fats? I’d call that a pretty substantial change. The idea of Canola oil was completely unheard of before the push for non-saturated fats, and now it’s a staple (as well as other vegetable based oils).

  2. Kirk says:

    I’d like to know precisely what lasting change they’re referring to… Try finding “organ meats” down at your local store, today. Anywhere I’ve been shopping in the last few decades, outside of the occasional ethnic groceries, there are about zero identifiable “organ meats” on sale in the stores. Hell, any more…? Soup bones are special-order.

    I would submit that a larger component of this “organ meat” thing was that the organ meats were not rationed as severely as “normal meat”, and as such, they got eaten as substitutes. Once the market came back, most people abandoned them as being “old shames”, and they never went back. I can remember my grandparents serving liver in the 1970s, but among my peers, such a thing was utterly unheard of. Had friends over for dinner on several occasions where that was served, and the response from them was not what I’d term “enthusiastic”.

    Why tastes changed? No idea. I’d lay out, though, that “marketing” had damn little to do with it, and that the “government meddling” probably had success only in their own minds.

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