Harry S. Truman photo

Remarks to Members of the Citizens Food Committee.

October 01, 1947

Members of the Citizens Food Committee:

This group of distinguished citizens has met to consider the grave food problem facing the world today. You are here because millions of people in many countries are hungry and look to the United States for help. You are here because the United States, in addition to being a granary of bread, is even more a granary of hope.

I have asked you to serve on the Citizens Food Committee, with Mr. Luckman as chairman, because I believe strongly that making our food serve the best possible use in these critical times is a matter for action not by the Government alone, but by all the people of the United States. Each of you possesses a special talent and long experience in some phase of this problem. I know that you have accepted membership on the Committee in the full knowledge that you will be called upon to devote to the situation we face a generous amount of work and much conscientious thinking, as well as a deep concern for the common welfare.

As is well known, this year's harvest has been poor in many parts of the world. All through Western Europe, cold and floods and drought have sharply reduced grain production. The result is that in the coming months these countries will have to cut their rations below the danger point unless they get more help, in the form of larger grain shipments, from the United States and other exporting countries.

It is extremely important to the United States that any serious reduction in the rations of hungry people be prevented. Apart from humanitarian considerations, if rations are significantly cut this winter, economic rehabilitation will come to a stop. This, in turn, would increase the degree and duration of dependence by other nations on special assistance by the United States. Most important, if we turn our backs upon these people they will turn from hunger to despair and from despair to chaos in areas where stability is essential to the peace and economic security of the world.

In the face of this situation, the amount of grain which the United States can export is limited. All estimates indicate that about 470 million bushels of grain are the most we can plan to export under present conditions. At the same time, there is strong evidence that we will have to export at least 100 million bushels more than this, if we are to do our share in meeting the absolute minimum needs of distressed people in other countries.

This 100 million bushels must be saved by the American people. This is our minimum goal. We know that only part of that saving can come from serving fewer slices of bread. The greater part of the saving must come out of what we feed our livestock. We must also save out of what we waste, and out of what we use in a score of ways for human food.

This saving must be achieved, not by increasing prices so that the brunt of the sacrifice will be borne by those least able to buy food, but through an equitable sharing by all of our citizens. There will be more than enough food in the United States to go around, provided it is fairly distributed. Excessive prices, however, result in unfair distribution. Already, increasing prices are bringing hardship to millions of Americans of low or moderate income. Failure to check price increases promptly will not only lower the American living standard, but would impair the confidence of business, and thus jeopardize the splendid record we have achieved in the maintenance of high employment, high production, and general prosperity. We must get prices down and help hungry people in other countries at the same time.

It has been estimated that we waste about 10 percent of all the food we buy. Just think of that! We waste 10 percent of all the food we buy. Clearly, by wasting less, American families can help significantly in feeding hungry families abroad. In addition to cutting down waste, Americans can save by being more selective in the foods they buy.

In our free enterprise system, we place major reliance on the voluntary actions of businessmen, farmers, workers, and consumers. It is in accordance with this principle that I have consistently set forth a program for voluntary action in all parts of the economy.

The appointment of the Citizens Food Committee is a further step in this direction. The conservation practices which this Committee works out, by reducing the demand for certain foods, should bring down some food prices, and hence reduce the cost of living.

As representatives of all segments of our population, the Citizens Food Committee can help us plan where, how much, and what kinds of food we should save. It can enlist the aid of those who should support the program--consumers, retailers, food distributors and processors, and farmers. It can also develop the best ways of informing the public on what steps Americans, as individuals and groups, can take.

We must deal with the problem quickly and decisively. Much depends, therefore, upon the voluntary conservation measures which the Citizens Food Committee will propose. Much depends upon the speed and thoroughness with which the American people will put these voluntary measures into effect.

The saving asked of each individual is actually very, very small. One bushel of grain saved by every person in America in the next few months will do the job.

And it seems to me that we are all in the frame of mind to do the job, and I know you can get it done. I appreciate very much your being here for that purpose.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. at the Committee's first meeting, held in the Moving Picture Theater in the East Wing of the White House.

On the same day the White House released the following statement by Secretary of State George C. Marshall:

"Every humane, economic, and world political interest of the United States dictates that we, the American people, should do everything within our power to help feed the people of Europe this winter.

"The many reasons for the grave shortage of food, particularly in Western Europe, have been explained to the country by the President. The urgency of the problem has developed with alarming rapidity. It has now reached the stage where only the immediate and concerted action of our people as a whole can avoid the possible disaster resulting from further cuts in pitifully low rations throughout Western Europe. Every American, I am sure, will gladly share his bounty with the hungry men, women and children of Europe. Food is the very basis of all reconstruction.

"Hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace. For recovery and political stability, Europe needs many things, but the most elemental, indispensable need is food.

"Europe needs more food than she received from us last winter and this country has smaller quantity available to send her. This may seem to be an impossible situation but it is not so if the American people really wish to find the answer.

"The Citizens Food Committee has laid down the challenge: 'Buy wisely, eat sensibly, waste nothing.' In short, all of us must 'declare war on waste' in this country in order to win the 'war against hunger' in Europe, and its menace to world stability."

Harry S. Truman, Remarks to Members of the Citizens Food Committee. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232354

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