When the authorities realized that the war was not going to end as quickly as they had expected, they had to adapt their expectations and to change the minds and hearts – and the taste – of the population. They had to prepare people for far reaching changes in food supply and nutrition. Housewives were called the „soldiers of the home front“. Dozens of cook books were supposed to teach skills for the new cooking and eating habits. Cooking courses of the „Reichsorganisation der Hausfrauen Österreichs“ (ROHÖ) focused on how to incorporate new ingredients, esp. corn and oat flour. Newspapers praised the prudent Austrian housewives for their ability to create meals out of nothing but potatoes. Recipes with funny names were printed on the back of tramway tickets to encourage baking and cooking with cornmeal which had replaced wheat flour. Viennese housewives had no choice but make these sacrifices.
Vienna became a city of animal breeders. Rabbits, hens, geese, and goats were held in backyards and apartments, garbage was used for feeding the animals. Cats and dogs did not fare well during those times because they did not contribute to the food supply – they were killed or abandoned. The city administration distributed specially diluted hay for the horses. It also allocated park grounds for creating gardens and increasing self-sufficiency. Along with practical information on how to deal with the war economy, the middle-class newspapers delivered feuilletons asking people to stay the course and persevere („Durchhalten!“), praising a simplified life and the return to nature. Felix Salten glorified the lack of sugar, the absence of horses and the walks by foot: „Today we are rethinking all that gives us pleasure. In the end, that is not a bad situation“, he wrote. Karl Kraus commented: „One of the most hideous effects accompanying perseverance is its daily mention and praise as if it were not a distress but a passion.“
Food substitutes proved unpopular with the Viennese
Even in 1916, feature writers praised the new slenderness und beauty of the women who had slimmed down to the „right“ shape. They praised the „ingenuities of frugality“ which had to be practiced in war kitchens. There were no more Wienerschnitzel, pork roasts and fried chicken. The number of days without meat was increased and the police monitored compliance; vegetarian cuisine did not prove to be popular with the population. New (mostly suspicious) food substitutes, e.g., surrogate meat, coffee, soap or sausage were supposed to help fill shortages in the kitchen. Advertisements promoted household appliances which were to help to cook more economically: the cooking box („Kochkiste“), canning jars for preserving food („Rex“-Gläser) …
„Breadbasket“ regions severely affected by war
The regular flow of food imports was heavily disrupted by the war. In the pre-war period, half of the bread baked in Vienna was made with Hungarian flour, large amounts of meat were also imported from Hungary. Deliveries from the Transleithania region were reduced to a sixth of the pre-war-volume. Galicia, another provider of food supplies, was in the hands of the Russian army until the summer of 1915. When the German and Austrian troops conquered Romania there was, for the first time since the beginning of the war, the possibility to get a hold of agricultural products from occupied territories. The lack of personnel and also of horses, fertilizers, and seeds had led to a decrease in home food production in Lower Austria, the countryside around Vienna. The increased demands of the army administration further reduced the supply for the civilian sector. Transport difficulties affected the delivery to consumer markets. The lack of coal in the harsh winter of 1916/1917 resulted from prioritizing military logistics over civilian needs.