U.S. soldiers sack bread ready for shipment, shortly after the end of World War I.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection/The New York Public Library
Finding bread alternatives may seem like a thoroughly modern obsession. (Can someone pass the chia-millet rolls?) But the widespread search for substitutes to white flour, in particular, dates back at least a century, to World War I, when Allied forces aggressively urged consumers to change their starchy habits for nationalistic reasons.
On one hand, bread was symbolically important: It conjured ideas of comfort that were especially welcome during a time of fear and turmoil. The act of sharing a loaf — literally breaking bread together — carried psychological weight.
“If you had bread, you were OK,” says Joanne Lamb Hayes, author of the book Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen.
Problem was, diners on both sides of the ocean had a taste for white bread, which only made use of part of the wheat crop, and wasted the res…