# The flavours of the Great War

In the kitchen: Seraing, canteen for mentally handicapped children, July 1918  - State Archives of Liège ©

In the kitchen: Seraing, canteen for mentally handicapped children, July 1918 - State Archives of Liège ©

Rectangular-shaped fish in tins, salted meats or pressed into cubes, dry fruits, potatoes stored under straw, vegetables hidden under the sand for better conservation… During the Great War, the eating habits of the Belgians changed as the conflict dragged on; the arrival of previously unknown imported products and the development of "homemade" recipes for conserving foods were all part of the efforts to combat shortages.

Early in the morning, the private and public markets in the cities and villages open their doors to provide the population with the foods overlooked by the German requisitions, and the thefts of whole wagons. Whether from the countryside or from private vegetable gardens in town, the meats, cereals, fruits and vegetables used on a seasonal basis during the conflict are still eaten today; in the collective memory of the oldest generations of the population, some of these foods still maintain the link between taste and the idea of shortages, as is the case of chicory.

Between 1914 and 1918, food supplies for the vast majority of Belgian households was a daily battle against the threat of scarcity. In the minds of organisations such as the CNSA and of Belgians knowledgeable in the field of nutrition, the danger of famine prompted the desire to teach the population about the importance of including new products such as rice and corn in their daily meals, and how to prepare foods that were available and in keeping with the principles of economical and rational cuisine. These lessons included advice on preparing more nutritional soups, about trusting the metallic cans that contained reduced fibre fish, and even the importance of giving priority to rainwater as opposed to the water from springs that had been contaminated by dynamite and the passage of military boots.

Still with the needs of rationing in mind, the flavours of the war depended on the economical abilities of homemakers. Despite the reality of shortages, the sense of need and uncertainty ended up instilling new habits and food-related customs that are still reflected on plates and in glasses to this very day.