When Potatoes Are Expensive, Substitute Rice


In 1917, food prices were rising rapidly in the U.S. because of World War I and the demand for food in Europe. Magazines were filled with articles about how to cope with the high food prices. One article encouraged readers to substitute rice for potatoes. Here’s a few excerpts:

Who Cares for Potatoes?

When there are cheaper foods that can take the place of Irish potatoes, why do we worry over their increasing cost? Besides, mankind has not always had potatoes to eat. The potato became widely popular only about one hundred years ago. It was the middle of the sixteenth century that the Spaniards found the potato in Peru and took it back to the Continent where it was cultivated as a curiosity.

In our own country we know the potato was cultivated in the temperate sections, for we have record of Sir Walter Raleigh’s taking it in 1585 from North Carolina to Ireland, to be cultivated on his estate near Cork. Its cultivation first became general in Ireland (whence its name) and not until a little more than a century ago did it come into widespread popular usage.

Certainly  we are not wholly dependent upon the potato for a well-balanced dietary since our ancestors thrived without it. To be sure, the potato has justly soared its popularity because of its cheapness, its food-value, its palatability, the convenience with which it can be shipped and stored, and the ease with which it can be prepared in a surprisingly large variety of attractive ways.

Source: Good Housekeeping (March, 1917)
Source: Good Housekeeping (March, 1917)

It is true that men and women are largely creatures of habit, but the time has come when the women, as controllers of at  least seventy-five percent of the incomes of the men of the nation, must look to our habits to see whether they are expensive and whether they need to be altered.

Starch is not the only necessary constituent of a substitute for potatoes. The potato is rich in vitamins. This property, however, is possessed by most fruits and vegetables, and by milk.

Rice would more than fit the bill, as it contains nearly three times as much energy-building material as the potato. If we substitute it for potatoes, me must have at the same meal vegetables or fruits that will supply the needed potassium and bulk. Such vegetables and fruits are: Cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, celery, string beans, parsnips, rhubarb, rutabagas, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, bananas, apricots, lemons, oranges, peaches pineapple, strawberries.

In purchasing rice we have a chance to economize by buying the broken kernels, which sell for several cents a pound cheaper than the whole grain, and have exactly the same food value.

Not that we wish to taboo potatoes–far be it from that–but since their price is relatively high we can save money by using potato-less menus.

Good Housekeeping (March, 1917)

39 thoughts on “When Potatoes Are Expensive, Substitute Rice

  1. Potatoes were a staple when I was younger, but I learned to eat rice when I lived in Liberia. It’s the basic food there; even the pets eat it, mixed with canned mackerel. Now, I rarely eat a white potato in any form. I used to eat baked potatoes, but even those have gone by the wayside — except in stews. It’s interesting that people had to be encouraged to consider rice, but it’s a fact that, for my grandmother and mother, it was considered a “fancy” food.

    1. Your comment led me to google “Australia potato shortage.” And, I was surprised to discover that there had been floods in southern Australia which affected the potato crop. It made me realize how little I know about significant events in other parts of the world–and that I probably need to be paying more attention to the news.

    1. It’s nice to hear that you enjoyed this post. I always find it really interesting to read what contemporary sources that were written at the time say.

  2. How interesting! When growing up as a child ,we grew our own potatoes,even mom kept some for seed potatoes. We didn’t eat rice for Dad didn’t care for it,so when I married my husband,who was born in Guatemala as his folks were missionaries there, loved rice . I’ve learned to cook rice in many ways and love it!

    1. Many of the foods that I regularly make are made using recipes that I got from my mother-in-law. It’s interesting how we expand our cooking repertoire based on the foods that our spouse likes.

  3. I found the article interesting in that it suggested rice as a way of saving money and serving it with such veggies as asparagus, apricots and pineapple which today are considered fairly expensive choices.

    1. Like you, I found it really interesting that the article author recommended supplementing rice with fruits and vegetables to make the meals more nutritious. It seems like all the savings from not eating potatoes would be lost when buying pricey produce. But apparently it was less expensive back then. Maybe more people had gardens (and trees in their yard).

  4. I was just wondering whether to make potatoes or rice tonight for dinner. But now I am wondering something else: WHICH great nation survives on rice? China? Japan? I know many other great nations that use a lot of rice . . . . I’ll bet the writer means China. What do you think? I wonder what kind of rice was most eaten in this country in those days. (lots of wondering) Long grain? short grain? Jasmine? Basmati? Uncle Ben’s? haha

        1. You’re right – We don’t know whether or not branded rice was available a hundred years ago. We probably need to research this. By the 1910’s many foods were branded and commercially packaged. The magazines were just filled with advertisements for Jello, Wesson Oil, Dromedary Dates . . . the list goes on and on. I can’t remember ever seeing an ad for rice–but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t brands of rice back then.

    1. There must have been some sort of issue with the 1916 crop. Hopefully they were able to grow a sufficient number of potatoes during the 1917 crop year to reduce the price once again.

  5. Interesting – I’m wondering what the author meant by “broken kernels”. Any ideas? This reminds me of stories I grew up hearing about the Depression and how people made do with what they had, seems that from generation to generation people learned to do what had to be done to make ends meet!

    1. Maybe “broken kernels” refers to broken grains of rice. What’s the difference between a “kernel” and a “grain”? I think of corn as having kernels–yet I say that rice has grains. I’m not sure why I use different terms since they both are seeds.

  6. I think potatoes are in inexpensive food now, but obviously they weren’t back then. I guess people have always had to learn to adapt to what was available and what they could afford.

    1. The key word in your statement is “good.” I’ve definitely seen some hundred-year-tips and suggestions that that failed the test of time. 🙂

  7. What an interesting post, Sheryl. I like the line where the author says we women have to control this! Growing up in India, rice was our staple but potatoes are used abundantly too.

    1. Most women in the U.S. did not work a hundred years ago, so the men were the income earners. Based upon what I’ve read about the early 1900s, my impression is that men typically gave their wives an “allowance” each week that the women were expected to use for food and other household expenses. The women (and the men) believed that it was very important to use this money responsibly by budgeting and being cost-conscience when planning meals.

  8. Yes, people had to adapt but in our family those victory gardens were a life saver; my mother being one of six kids, they had no choice. My preference is potatoes, and red ones at that; however, I make a pretty mean Spanish rice dish that my family loves. It’s always gone the next day. 🙂 Great article.

    1. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the old article. Gardens been such an important source of food throughout the years. I like red potatoes the best, too. 🙂

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