Cinema History from the Cold War!

Food for Thought

Colorado Civil Defense Agency
1956

With a wailing organ score fluctuating in the background, this film opens at the turn of the 20th Century on a rural Colorado farm.  Finding his local general store closed, city dweller Sam motors out to Hank's farm.  After some pleasant small talk, he is able to purchase meat, flour and jam.  This introductory scene is presented as a historical reenactment because by 1956, the year The Colorado Civil Defense Agency released Food for Thought, this type of direct transaction between producer and consumer was a thing of the distant past.  By the Mid-1950's, rapid industrial mechanization meant that raw food and ingredients would be immediately transported to urban centers for processing, packaging and sale.  The beef and grain from Hank's farm, an authoritative narrator points out, would be trucked to Denver.  Several quick shots highlight the economic advantage and convenience of modern food production systems, from dairies with automated milking machines, to cutting edge flour mills, to slaughter houses which can go from carcasses to hot dog casing in a single facility.  With modernity, however, comes fragility.  The vast and intricate infrastructure required to sustain these food systems would easily be taken out of commission by an enemy atomic bomb, tactfully shown onscreen with footage of an erupting mushroom cloud.  The remainder of the film focuses on four housewives as they deal with food shortages, rationing, and a lack of utilities after an atomic bomb destroys Denver.

                    

Food for Thought is unique among most civil defense films in that it is directed primarily towards housewives, assigning to them the vital task of feeding their families and those less fortunate in the wake of an atomic attack.  Of the four women featured in the film, two are prepared and contribute to recovery efforts while the remaining two act in selfish and foolish ways, helping no one.  In the Mountview Market on the outskirts of Denver, the first housewife approaches the checkout with a cart full of sensible items.  When the cashier expresses surprise over the amount of food being purchased, she calmly explains she has taken in several refugees from "Downtown", while expressing relief that her own house remains standing.  The second housewife is not so altruistically minded.  She stands impatiently in line as items spill from her overflowing cart.  When questioned by the cashier, she snaps that she does not intend to starve.  Before she can checkout, however, a civil defense official enters the store and announces all food is to be sent to an emergency kitchen in the northern suburb of Brighton (though he curtly assures the store will be able to open on its own in a few days time).  With a huff, the second housewife storms out to her car-seen to be packed full of purchased groceries.  The narrator chastises about the damage a hoarder mentality can cause. 

                   

Food supply problems extend far beyond the downtown Denver area targeted by an enemy bomb.  In a distant suburban neighborhood, a third housewife initially rests assured that her well-stocked refrigerator and pantry will see her family through the emergency.  Much to her surprise, however, water and gas lines disrupted by the attack no longer function.  Additionally, without electricity, the food in her refrigerator has quickly spoiled.  With a fridge full of rotten meat and the food in her pantry useless without basic utilities, she smokes a cigarette and stares in frustration at her recipe books.  How can one avoid this fate?  The fourth housewife provides an answer.  Well ahead of any disaster, she has shopped for non-perishable foods which require no cooking.  In a box labeled Emergency Rations she rotates food and large containers of water.  Mindful of the threat of radiation, her supplies are kept sealed in the basement.  A final scene shows her entire family seated to a peaceful dinner, presumably secure in the knowledge that they are well-positioned to survive an attack.  Although Food for Thought would be marketed nationally by various state civil defense agencies, The Federal Civil Defense Administration never distributed it.  Because of this, it is difficult to determine the official fate of film.  Contemporary newspaper articles reveal that while it enjoyed widespread viewings at civil meetings and civil defense lectures in the late 1950's, screenings diminished significantly after 1961.  By that year, most civil defense organizations were focusing on protection from fallout radiation, which is barely addressed in Food for Thought.  This omission likely helped aid the film's slip into obscurity.