A large naval ship floating in a sea of persimmons.
MacGregor Campbell, AI Illustration/MacGregor Campbell / OPB


Superabundant dispatch: How Wobblies saved logging camp food

By Heather Arndt Anderson (OPB)
Nov. 11, 2022 2 p.m.

And the surprising overlap between the military, logging and food in the Northwest

Editor’s note: OPB’s video series “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest. Now we’re taking the same guiding principles to a new platform: Email. We’ve brought on food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian and botanist, to highlight different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem every week. This week she takes a look at how the Northwest ate during war times.

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Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, which gives us a nice opportunity to reflect on the service that enlisted men and women have given to our country. It also gives us a chance to think about stuff like how those mini boxes of cereal, complete with milk-proof boxes that function as bowls, were first created for the armed forces during World War II. They were a far cry from the dextrose tablets and canned eggs found in the breakfast Field Ration, Type K (better known as “K-Rations,” or K-Rats for short). What other well-known military meal is still enjoyed for breakfast today? Read on to find out!

Small bites: Pivoting to pizza, climate-crisis crabs, and helping huckleberry habitat

Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:

When pivots go permanent, everyone wins.

The pandemic has seen the closures of a staggering number of restaurants, but a few local spots landed their saving throws. Some offered more robust takeout options, whereas others made permanent changes to their business model and don’t plan on reopening in their pre-pandemic formats. Pix Patisserie has no plans to reopen for dine-in wine and tapas, but their 24-hour Pix-O-Matic brought automat-style dessert and conserva vending machines to people desperate for quality treats. Similarly, Italian restaurant Renata launched a line of frozen pizzas and ultimately decided to close the restaurant and focus on the pizzas full time. OPB’s Crystal Ligori reports on a few more of the success stories around the state.

Dungeness crabs get a closer look.

James Beard loved a crab louis salad and grew up eating it in Portland; there’s some speculation that the dish even originated in the Northwest. Marine biologists at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport just received a federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the tune of $4.2 million to study the long-term impacts of climate change on our region’s favorite grumpus. The study will help commercial fisheries and state and tribal resource managers make informed decisions on how to handle the crab fisheries for generations to come. No word yet on how much crab louis that money could buy.

Umatilla tribal members manage more than just salmon.

Just as Pacific Northwest people have historically subsisted on a diet vastly wider than just salmon, managing the resources that historically provided first foods requires casting a much wider net. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are not only part of the larger tribal collective managing Columbia River fisheries, but they’re also taking the lead in managing habitats to support their other first foods, like huckleberries, elk and eel. Northwest Public Broadcasting’s Dori Luzzo Gilmour reports on the remarkable efforts and headway made by Umatilla people.

Illustrated recipe cards from the US Navy

United States Navy recipe cards from 1971

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB

Semper pie


Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, and we wanted to take a look at the Northwest’s history with the armed forces. Though Oregon doesn’t have a huge military presence, we do have a few Air National Guard and Coast Guard bases, and besides the obvious fact that veterans happen to live in the state (and that the only World War II casualties on continental American soil were in Oregon), we have a few culinary connections to the military going back more than a century. For example, the first crackers and matzos in Portland came from Oregon Steam Bakery in 1880; these were mostly plate-sized pilot bread (hardtack) sold to the government for soldiers.

Watch the Wheat episode of Superabundant.

Kerr canning jars came from Portland, and by the time the U.S. entered World War I, Oregon had an entire force of avid Victory Gardeners. Portland women combined their forces in the “Uncle Sam’s Kanning Kitchen” (a division of the National League for Women’s Service) to assist the federal Food Administration in conserving produce for the war. An astonishing 15,000 quarts were put up and sent off to the battlefield, giving soldiers on the front lines a taste of home.

During WWI, Portland women also rallied together to produce the charity cookbook Bundles for Britain Cook Book, with the intent of providing aid to allies across the pond. One recipe for whiskey pie, provided by Elizabeth Wilcox, wife of Theodore Wilcox Jr. (son of the wheat magnate responsible for getting Portland on the map as a global wheat shipping port, and who nearly single handedly got Oregon wheat into Chinese noodles in the 1880s), pays mind to wheat rationing and calls for a crust of crushed zwieback crackers instead of flour. Another, the All-Western Conservation Cook Book (by the cooking columnist for Portland’s Evening Telegram) not only included guidance on using less sugar and fats in cooking, but went so far as to include the fuel costs for accomplishing each recipe.

Composite of United States Navy recipe cards from 1971

Composite of United States Navy recipe cards from 1971

MacGregor Campbell / OPB

Logging camp fare: a real soup sandwich

During World War I, there was a sharp demand for light, strong and flexible Pacific Northwest spruce for building war planes. But despite the knowledge that hard working men needed good food to power them (somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000-9,000 calories a day), many timber companies tried to cut corners by offering smaller portions and lower quality of product. Articles published in trade magazines offered tips on how to save on food costs; one promoted improving the appearance of dining halls to encourage slower eating to reduce the amount of food consumed, while others recommended putting the onus on logging camp cooks to maintain scrupulous food cost records and personally account for product loss. Domestic science and home economics (read: a woman’s touch) were recruited to help cut costs.

Meanwhile, wartime life for lumberjacks and logging camp kitchen staff was utterly demoralizing. Living and dining conditions were squalid, and the labor was bone-crushingly arduous. Something had to change, so loggers enlisted help from the labor group the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or the “Wobblies”) and they went on strike in the summer of 1917, beginning with a walkout over bad food.

Specific complaints about the food in Pacific Northwest logging camps had been fairly nonexistent, but an improvement on cuisine was nonetheless among the loggers’ demands; specifically, they asked for “Wholesome food in porcelain dishes, no overcrowding; sufficient help to keep kitchen clean and sanitary.”

Image generated by Stable Diffusion AI using prompt: "wwii navy ship, floating in sausage gravy, biscuits, pacific northwest forest, oil painting, good composition, by Jan van Eyck, -mast, -sails, -frame"

Image generated by Stable Diffusion AI using prompt: "wwii navy ship, floating in sausage gravy, biscuits, pacific northwest forest, oil painting, good composition, by Jan van Eyck, -mast, -sails, -frame"

MacGregor Campbell, AI Illustration/MacGregor Campbell / OPB

Once the strike brought timber harvest to a halt right when wood was most needed, the government predictably stepped in. The Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, or Four L, was a militarized labor union created by the U. S. War Department to counter the widespread lumber strike brought about by the Wobblies. War Colonel Brice Disque was dispatched to call a meeting of timber industry leaders in downtown Portland to come to a solution; timber baron Simon Benson graciously hosted the event at his hotel. Patriotic civilian and soldier volunteers, totaling 45,000 men, pledged loyalty to the American war effort and took up residence in barracks just across the Columbia from Portland. Those who did not take the oath were suspected of being saboteurs, traitors, or worst of all, anarchists.

Following the formation of the Four L, things turned around right quick. A wider variety of foods was served, rather than just beans and salt pork; fresh produce, eggs, dairy and meats were added to the loggers’ diet, in abundance and as a matter of course. Clean cookhouses for dining and food preparation became commonplace, and men were given the dignity of plates and silverware. And for the first time, women started working in Pacific Northwest logging camp kitchens, finding employment as cooks, bakers, dishwashers and waitresses.

Today, one of the best known examples of military cuisine is an economical variation on creamed chipped beef on toast, known affectionately as SOS. It also happens to be a kissing cousin of biscuits and gravy — a humble dish fully intertwined with our lumberjack history and one that appears on every breakfast menu in the Northwest. It beats the heck out of hardtack any day.

A recipe for creamed sliced dried beef

The classic "S.O.S" recipe from United States Navy recipe cards from 1971

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB

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