Minnesota Starvation Experiment - Starving for K Rations
A Golden Rule of Nutrition
When you have access to adequate and effective nutrition, take advantage of it. Maintain the freedom and dignity to do so. Help others toward this freedom.
Say Uncle: Experiences In World Wars
War is difficult for nations, families, and individuals. During World War II, two of my uncles fought in the US Army in the European Theater.
One uncle I never met, because he was shipped home in a crate many years before I was born. His funeral was almost an open casket affair, the top half of the lid open, but the opening covered with a tight-fitting glass window to prevent rampant infectious overseas diseases from attacking mourners.
The second uncle was more successful, earning a Purple Heart that he locked away. When he shipped back and was able to return to the family farm late at night, his father had little to say. An old man, he'd been working 14 hours a day on the farm without enough help, since his son had left for the draft.
That 75-year-old's own father had fought in the American Civil War, worked a few years as a designer-engineer on the National Road and died suddenly the year my grandfather was born. The latter never served in the army; regardless, war changed all of these men and robbed them of parts of their lives, no matter how patriotically they had served or waited for a son to come home, maybe in a box.
These military men ate US Army rations during their enlistments.
US Army Rations In History
An uncle-in-law emigrated from the USSR and Ukraine before American entrance into WWII. Traumatized, he refused to discuss anything about that part of the world. The first part of his life became inaccessible. It was lost.
The Nazi regime attempted to starve Russians into submission. In the Leningrad of the Hungry Winter, the people ate all of the starving animals from the zoo, letting the bloods of slaughter flow steaming into the streets. They ate their pets, then captured and devoured the stray cats and dogs from the streets. When all of these food sources exhausted, they ate children, the evidence of the bones found in apartments. Ground meat could have been anything or anyone.
People expanded their cannibalism to include dead adults, wallpaper paste, and boiled leather goods, yet still they starved on a ration of 700 calories per manual laborer daily for 872 days -- Less strenouous work gained one only about 470 calories and children, about 420 each day: a small piece of bread and a cabbage leaf or two (today in North Korea, some people are permitted only ground corncob gruel once a day). In Leningrad, people began cutting off their own limbs to eat until January 27, 1944 when the Red Army broke the seige. One million people had starved to death in Leningrad alone. Similar atrocity visited other cities, while in the US, American doctors attempted to find ways to help the starving to recover from malnutrition after they were freed.
Countrymen of my uncle-in-law ate nothing on many days.
The Great American Starvation Experiment of WWII
US Army Rations and History
Where Are the Keys?
Other military and civilian personnel suffered losses connected with World War II. Dr. Ancel Keys, who developed the K ration and other editions, designed methods for overcoming malnutrition in Europe post WWII, and advocated for the Mediterranean Diet in 1945 was one of these. Keys cannot be found on the US Army medical history web site. Author of a related book, Todd Tucker speculates that Keys received no acknowledgement, because of politics that blocked recognition for previous work done by those in charge, who may have passed that injustice down the ranks.
Ancel Keys worked very hard. As a teenager, he had shipped out to work at sea and haggled for goods with the Chinese at the docks in Asia, making himself understood with written Mandarin, since his accent did not catch on there. Returning home, he spent 3-4 months alone in the desert, living in a cave that was his work site. He spent daylight hours shoveling bat guano from the cave for fertilizer and had no expenses, his meals brought to him in the cave.
Returning home, Keys made quick work of college in record time. As a scientist and researcher, he was recruited away from one prestigious university after another, as well as the Mayo Clinic. He was pleased to work for the government in designing nutritional meals for the troops and excited about his study that would save the lives of starving people.
A total of 36 men originally agreed and were accepted to starve in Keys's study as an act of alternative service assigned to officially designated US Conscientious Objectors, of which there were 151 separate camps of about 12,000 men (others were released as 4 F).
We hear much about the US Japanese Interment Camps, but little about the starvation camp. .
The Mediterranean Diet was developed by the lead researcher in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment - Ancel Keys, Ph.D.
Conscientious Objector Slavery During WWII and an Experiment
The US draft board-certified Conscientious Objectors (COs) of WWII were largely from the Historic Peace Churches (largely Mennonite, Brethren, and Quakers/Friends, but including some others), although at least one CO was Jewish.
The COs were required to serve in the Civilian Public Service and live in camps nearly identical to former Depression-era work camps and period Japanese internment camps, which held such notables at George Takei, Pat Morita, and Congressmen Bob and Doris Matsui.
The COs all lived without privacy in rooms without doors or in areas divided only by sheets, just as did citizens in the the former Russian Empire after the October Revolution.
COs worked without pay or benefits and several died in this forced volunteerism and slavery, although most felt that they were doing something exciting and valuable. Some had been the sole support of their mothers and other family members.
Design and Results of the Experiment
One redeeming result of CO efforts was their “mystery shopping” of mental institutions while they volunteered within them. These efforts developed into an organization called the National Mental Health Foundation which today is active in promoting the rights of people with mental challenges.
Some of CO work was “busy work”, but some was important, like that of the COs that volunteered for Dr. Keys's Minnesota Starvation Experiment in order to help save staring people with its results. After a physical exam and the newly-instituted MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Test), 36 men were accepted for a controlled study.
They were fed regular meals for 3 months, then reduced to 50% of the daily requirement for an adult male of about 25-30 years of age and average weight and height. After the second 3 months, they were treated for malnutrition in order to determine best methods and materials for its treatment. The resulting knowledge was applied to Europeans starved by the methods of the Third Reich.
Some controversy surrounds the medical findings of the study and the application of its results to helping post World War II starvation victims. Not all of science found the results useful nor their application effective. Additional controversy is attached to the naming of the K ration, some officials of the era stating that "K" was a coincidence.
For a complete discussion by a top historian, see Todd Tucker's The Great Starvation Experiment. Additional material is available from Life magazine archives for 1945. Mr. Tucker gathered much of his research from sources that included personal interviews with Dr. Ancel Keys and several of the experiment's participants and staff persons, as well as from written and digital materials.
Undercover Patients are Heroes
One redeeming result of CO slave efforts was their “mystery shopping” of mental institutions while they worked within them. Findings developed into an organization called the National Mental Health Foundation, which today promotes the rights of people with mental challenges.
Nutrition Gold From Ancel Keys
- They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment -- Ka
- History of the Mediterranean Diet
Ancel Keys, Ph.D., who died in November, 2004, at the age of 100, was among the first scientists to recognize that human atherosclerosis is not an inevitable consequence of aging, and that a high-fat diet can be a major risk factor for coronary heart
- Minnesota Obesity Center | College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences | University
Interesting Findings to Consider
The starvation of subjects casued physical and psychological illnesses. One man cut off three of his fingers while chopping wood, but required many years in order to realize that this was an act of desperation to escape from the study. The men, selected in part for their capacity to get along well with others, became irritable and unhappy, paranoid and hypochondriacal. They dreamed of food. Some contracted TB.
Positive Application of Findings
Starvation is horrendous, and the Minnesota Starvation Experiment yielded workable means of
- reversing malnutrition as well as
- useful information about obesity and disease.
- It also produced evidence that starvation shares many symptoms of a range of eating disorders,
- suggesting the importance of both physical and psychological nourishment.
After WWII, many of the study participants became scientists and university professors. At least one continued to protest and march in protest against wars into his 80s and the era of the George W. Bush Administration. Another became an actor, another a statesman under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, another a curator of a major University of Minnesota library. Not only did many of these men regain a livelihood, but additionally, they made a difference throughout their lives.
War, Loss and Hunger
War has not only threatened people and liberated some individuals of their freedoms, it has produced results that stole lives, family members, livelihoods, and hope.— P. Inglish
War has not only threatened people and liberated some individuals of their freedoms, it has produced results that stole lives, family members, livelihoods, and hope. It took not only lives and body parts, but also the psychological heart of some individuals.
Veterans returning from wars and not welcomed back (even in wars before Viet Nam) suffered even an additional unexpected trauma.
My uncles and grandfather were never the same afterward. I am thankful that some of their suffering has resulted in certain best practices in current medicine, health, and nutrition for all humanity. Please visit: The National World War II Memorial
World War II Memorial
WWII Memorial Gold Star Wall, Washington DC
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS