Ensuring that Americans had enough food at home and abroad was an integral part of national defense during World War II. While widely recognized as a time of prosperity, the popular images of abundance from this era obscure how systemic inequities of race, class, and gender permeated federal programs and limited people’s access to basic needs, particularly food. These needs in the postwar era inspired new forms of collective action and community organizing in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

During World War II, the federal government increased production spending, invested in public education and job training, expanded New Deal programs, and increased its management of the American food supply. Fighting hunger became an important part of the national defense — from encouraging victory gardens, to providing standardized nutritional guidelines, to establishing the National School Lunch Program.

The postwar years ushered in unprecedented prosperity for some, mostly white, Americans, giving rise to a new consumer culture that made hunger seem like a thing of the past. However, hunger persisted for millions of Americans, particularly Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well as residents of rural America, to whom this prosperity had been denied.