The Surprising Point of the First Televised White House Speech

2 minute read

Meatless Monday may seem like a relatively new concept. The modern alliterative push for going vegetarian one day a week traces its roots to only 2003, and has been gaining steam ever since. But it turns out the flexitarians owe some debt to an unlikely source: President Harry S. Truman.

On Oct. 5, 1947, with Europe on the brink of famine following World War II, Truman delivered the first presidential speech to air on television. His aim: convince Americans, giddy from the post-war boom, to share with the less fortunate across the Atlantic. “If the peace should be lost because we failed to share our food with hungry people there would be no more tragic example in all history of a peace needlessly lost,” Truman told the nation.

Consuming less would increase the amount left to share, and it would also help keep prices down at home. So the President had a plan: no red meat on Tuesdays, and no poultry or eggs on Thursdays. Citizens were also asked to eat one less piece of bread each day, and restaurants were requested only to serve bread and butter if it was ordered. As the Citizens Food Committee announced following the speech, even the White House was going along: the President would have cheese souffle for lunch and broiled salmon for dinner on that Tuesday, with an egg-free menu of baked ham the following night. Meatless Mondays had been a wartime solution to shortages dating back to World War I, which TIME later called “the 1917-18 meatless, wheatless, or otherless days,” so there was plenty of precedent for asking Americans to cut back.

There were, however, a few exceptions that even the President would allow: as TIME pointed out the following week, Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving in 1947 all fell on poultry-free Thursdays. The solution would be to conserve on the Mondays of those weeks instead, so Americans could have their turkeys and save them, too.

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