In This Review

The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food
The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food
By Lizzie Collingham
The Penguin Press HC, 2012, 656 pp

It is hard to think of any serious new angles on World War II, but Collingham has done so by considering the importance of food in sustaining the war effort and shaping strategy. During the war, U.S. soldiers were fed well, whereas the Japanese were expected to survive on spiritual nourishment. The British system of rationing not only avoided starvation but helped sustain national solidarity. Collingham’s achievement is to reveal the interaction of warfare and agricultural economics, depicting the desperation of the hungry and the casual cruelty of occupation. Of particular note is her treatment of the Nazi leader Herbert Backe’s Hunger Plan, which German leaders used to justify their invasion of Russia on the assumption that Russian land could be used to feed German soldiers while the locals starved. Although this is a thoroughly researched and consistently informative book, Collingham at times exaggerates the impact of food on the war, overemphasizing its ability to explain events and underestimating the influence of other practical factors, such as oil supplies, and harder-to-quantify variables, such as the power of ideology.