Sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage dish, is a staple of German cuisine and a popular side dish for many mericans. But did you know that during World War I, sauerkraut was renamed “liberty cabbage” in the United States to avoid the stigma of being associated with the enemy?
The renaming of sauerkraut was part of a larger movement to eliminate German culture from American life. During the war, anti-German sentiment and propaganda led to boycotts and attacks on German-American businesses, schools, newspapers, and culture. German-Americans faced a barrage of suspicion, discrimination, and violence during the war. They were accused of being spies, saboteurs, and traitors, and some were even lynched by mobs.
To avoid being targeted, many German-Americans changed their names, their accents, and their customs. They also changed the names of their products, such as frankfurters becoming hot dogs, hamburgers becoming liberty steaks, and Berlin becoming Barlin in Iowa. Sauerkraut, which was widely consumed by Americans of all backgrounds, was also given a patriotic makeover. In 1918, the Federal Food Administration issued a statement that sauerkraut would henceforth be known as “liberty cabbage” or simply “cabbage”.
The term “liberty cabbage” was meant to distance the dish from its German origin and to appeal to the patriotic fervor of the time. However, not everyone was convinced by the name change. Some critics mocked the idea of renaming sauerkraut, saying that it was a futile and ridiculous attempt to erase history and culture. Others pointed out that sauerkraut was not even a German invention, but a Chinese one that was brought to Europe by the Mongols.
The term “liberty cabbage” faded away after the war, but the impact of anti-German propaganda on American society and culture lasted for decades. The war also changed the meaning of liberty itself, as the government imposed censorship, conscription, and sedition laws that violated civil liberties. As one historian put it, “The war was not only fought on the battlefield, but also on the home front, where Americans were urged to support the war effort by buying bonds, conserving food, and shunning anything German.”
The legacy of anti-German propaganda in Britain was also profound and long-lasting. It shaped public opinion, influenced political decisions, and affected the relationship between Britain and Germany for generations. The propaganda depicted Germans as barbaric, ruthless, and evil, and used stereotypes and caricatures to dehumanize them. The propaganda also exploited the fear and hatred of the German Kaiser, who was portrayed as a tyrant and a monster.
The history of sauerkraut and liberty cabbage is a fascinating example of how food, culture, and politics are intertwined. It shows how a simple dish can become a symbol of identity, loyalty, and resistance in times of war and conflict. It also shows how propaganda can manipulate the masses and create lasting prejudices and animosities. The next time you enjoy a plate of sauerkraut or liberty cabbage, remember the story behind it and how it reflects the complex and turbulent history of the world.
– Why People In The US Once Called Sauerkraut ‘Liberty Cabbage’, Tasting Table, September 27, 2022
– How World War I Changed the Meaning of ‘Liberty’, Smithsonian Magazine, November 9, 2023
– The Forgotten History of German-Americans in World War I, The Atlantic, November 11, 2023
– The Legacy of Anti-German Propaganda in Britain, BBC History Extra, November 12, 2023