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Mess Hall Operations

Under WCCA. On March 19, 1942, Joseph R. Winchester began work at Manzanar as Chief Project Steward, a job he would hold throughout the duration of Manzanar's operation under both the WCCA and the WRA. The next day food was unloaded from trucks and stacked on the ground under "military guard." Stoves and kitchen equipment were stacked beside partially-constructed Mess Hall 1 where they would remain for several days.

While talking with the "volunteer" evacuees on March 21, Winchester met "an alien Japanese who had managed a restaurant." Within two hours, about 30 evacuees "with restaurant experience or a willingness to do kitchen work temporarily placed a stove in the middle of the first mess hall, prepared food there, and served the first camp meal," composed of "canned goods, Army 'B-type rations.'"

Perishable food was not acquired for almost a week, except for bread which was delivered on March 21. To protect the bread from the ever-present Manzanar dust, Winchester placed it "in a panel truck." Mess hall 1 was completed on March 22, and Winchester instructed his embryonic crew, because 710 evacuees would arrive the following day via a motor caravan from Los Angeles.

Dishes were washed in small household-type dishpans in water heated on coal stoves, some of which were set up in the open. Water was trucked from "a well half a mile away." Not until "about April 4, when there were 3,286 people in residence and the sixth kitchen was open, were sinks, sewers, and water-main connections completed."

To find additional help for the expanding mess operations, Winchester, with the aid of an interpreter, met arriving evacuees and questioned them as to their work experience. Those selected for mess operations were allowed a day to unpack and settle before starting work. An evacuee typist was hired for clerical work, and an appointed storekeeper was employed to handle food supplies.

Around April 18, when ten mess halls were in operation, Winchester was sent to other assembly centers to aid in organization of their mess operations. A newly appointed staff employee, having been trained for mess management at another center, assumed charge for a short time at Manzanar. He, in turn, was replaced by another steward who came for a week's training before taking over the mess operations.

The first kitchens each fed an average of more than 600 people per day. To feed incoming evacuees, the messes remained open until after midnight during the early months of Manzanar's operation. Newcomers ordinarily arrived so late that their processing was not completed until "10 or 11 o'clock and sometimes later." The practice was to feed them before they were assigned to their quarters for the night, thus resulting in long hours for the mess workers. Two crews, totaling 60 men and women, were needed to staff each mess hall.

When new mess halls were opened, Winchester selected "a capable-appearing cook" with orders to organize a crew for the mess hall. Men were chosen for the new crew largely from operating facilities, while replacements were made from among the new evacuee arrivals.

By early April food storehouses were established beside the mess halls. Several months later, warehouses at the edge of the residential area were allocated to the Mess Operations Section.

Under the WCCA, Army B-type rations that were served to the evacuees included a "few perishables such as milk, potatoes, bread, and lettuce." There was no refrigeration at the center until around July 1; thus, two refrigerator cars were placed on the railway siding at Lone Pine to serve that purpose. A contract was made with the Lone Pine Ice Company to re-ice these cars every morning. Two trips a day were made by truck from Manzanar to the refrigerator cars for food supplies.

While Manzanar was administered by the WCCA, food was supplied by the Army Quartermaster Corps "in accordance with needs as the Army saw them." This at first produced some difficulties. The Quartermaster Corps, for instance, purchased large quantities of cottage cheese and buttermilk for the evacuees, but the residents, "unaccustomed to these foods, would not eat them." Instead, they wanted rice. According to Winchester, "It took several weeks to convince the Army that the rice requirement would range upward from a half-pound per day per person."

Under the WRA. When management of the center was transferred to the WRA on June 1, there was little change in mess operations except that the Chief Project Steward was replaced temporarily by a new man. A Mess Operations Section was established "to secure food supplies and to feed the evacuees." This section operated 36 mess halls, a kitchen in the hospital, and another in the Children's Village. The block kitchen next to the hospital was a special diet kitchen for the care of ambulant persons who, for reasons of disease or ill health, required special feeding, but did not need complete hospitalization. In addition, because the camp was isolated from ordinary community facilities, the section supervised "a cooperative dining-hall for appointed staff personnel who did not find it possible or desirable to eat in their living quarters." Food and labor at the appointed personnel dining hall were paid for by those who used the facilities. The Mess Operations Section also supplied the military post adjoining the camp with perishables and all supplies until 1944.

Under the WRA, food for the Manzanar mess halls continued to be requisitioned from the Army Quartermaster Corps, although for a time each requisition required approval from WRA officials in San Francisco. This practice, according to Winchester, resulted in difficulties, "because people away from the Center did not appreciate the eating habits of evacuees," frequently substituting "an un-ordered item for an ordered item." For instance, officials in San Francisco "considered it good business to accept 110 tons of cracked wheat which was obtainable in return for the payment of freight and handling charges." The evacuees did not care for cracked wheat, and the shipment arrived marked "unfit for human consumption." The result was that it was fed to poultry and livestock. Similarly, dried figs were substituted for other fruits "for so long that they were refused by tired appetites and a dangerously large over-supply accumulated on the Project." In August 1942, San Francisco approval of requisitions was no longer required.

Construction of the kitchens and mess halls was slow and equipment was often inadequate. When Winchester returned to his position as Chief Project Steward at Manzanar on July 1, only 23 mess halls were open. Although construction of the others was complete, a shortage of equipment delayed their opening. All of the mess halls were placed in operation, however, during the succeeding weeks. Winchester commented on some of the early problems facing operation of the mess halls:

From the first, and in spite of makeshift facilities, mess halls functioned smoothly. Supply was not always perfect but there was never a shortage of good wholesome food. Great concern was felt, however, because of inadequate facilities for sanitation, and this condition was watched closely and with considerable fear. Fortunately nothing developed except two very mild epidemics of diarrhea.

A problem in food arose out of conflict in food tastes between the desires of the first-generation Japanese and their American-born children. The older people were accustomed to, and desired, larger amounts of rice and Japanese food than were acceptable to the younger people. Limitations on the money granted for food, made it possible for the older people to have things more nearly their way, for Japanese food is economical.

Policies: Cost — The policy of the Mess Operations Section, governed by a WRA administrative instruction issued on August 24, 1942, was to "provide good wholesome, nutritious, palatable food at a daily cost of not more than 45 cents per day per resident, and to maintain high standards of sanitation and cleanliness." During 1942, consumption of "a large quantity of home-produced vegetables" enabled the section to more than meet that cost policy. The Mess Operations Section purchased these home-grown vegetables and melons from the Agriculture Section at Manzanar at approximately Los Angeles market prices.

Policies: Menus — Menus at Manzanar, as at all centers, were based on those prepared by the Subsistence Section of the Service of Supply Division of the Army. An attempt was made to satisfy both the Americanized tastes of the second-generation evacuees and the predominantly Asian appetites of their alien elders. Fancy grades of provisions, however, were expressly prohibited, and rationing restrictions were strictly enforced.

Meals at Manzanar averaged from 2,800 to 3,500 calories per person per day during 1942, With the exception of short periods when ration-point values were very low, meat consumption remained "approximately at the level allowed by rationing." Although "Japanese menus" contained "a greater amount of starch" than was "customary among Americans in general," every effort to provide palatable foods was made by the evacuee stewards who prepared menus which the Chief Project Steward approved." A considerable part of the menu consisted of "rice, sukiyaki, miso, tofu, chop suey, chow mein, shoyu sauce, and pickled vegetables of all kinds."

Special facilities were established for feeding of babies, nursing mothers, invalids, and hospital cases. Because of acute dairy shortages, fluid milk was served ordinarily only to evacuees, such as the aforementioned, who had a need for special dietary treatment.

Policies: Sanitation — The sanitary conditions in the kitchens never satisfied the Chief Project Steward. While some kitchens maintained high sanitation standards, others did not. To improve conditions, regular inspections were conducted by evacuee inspectors, When the position of sanitarian was filled by an appointed staff member, he assumed the inspection task. Signs, posters, and meetings with chiefs "all played their part in a campaign for greater cleanliness." As a result, a few unsatisfactory kitchens were closed down for several days to enforce better conditions.

Service — Food was served cafeteria style "on heavy restaurant-ware dishes." A gong announced meal times, after which lengthy lines formed. In good weather a long line formed outside and in poor weather inside. At times, problems arose as some persons attempted to "get ahead of their neighbors."

One kitchen in four was staffed with two to three nutrition aides who, on doctors' prescriptions, prepared formulas for babies, and special meals at 10 and 2 for children too young to eat the regular center diet. Supervised by an evacuee woman, this service was at first under the technical guidance of the hospital, but later it was placed under the direct management of the Chief Project Steward.

Food Supplies: Procurement — At the request of the Army, and in an effort to conserve transportation facilities, food for Manzanar was obtained largely in carload quantities. The WRA attempted to keep a 90-day food supply on hand. Staple products were purchased through quartermaster depots of the Army, while perishable commodities were bought generally on the open market or produced at the center. Each morning the mess hall chef turned in a requisition for supplies that would be needed the following day. The Chief Project Steward and his assistants went over the requisitions, making deletions or additions to conform to the menu planned. Food was then withdrawn from storehouses and delivered to the mess halls.

Food Supplies: Warehousing — Supplies arrived at Manzanar by truck and were tallied in to one of nine warehouses, one of which was reserved exclusively for rice. When an invoice was received, a receiving report was made and submitted to the Fiscal Section for payment. For each commodity a bin card was kept at the place of storage, and a property card was kept at the office to show all receipts and withdrawals. To insure accuracy, a daily check was made between the two cards.

Food Supplies: Refrigeration — Perishable foods were stored in two refrigerating rooms constructed at the center about July 1. One refrigerator was for vegetables and the other for meat which was received in the whole carcass. In a connecting butcher shop the meat was cut to fill requisitions, and efforts were undertaken to insure that each mess hall received a "proportionate share of good cuts."

Personnel: Appointed — When the WRA took over, two persons, the Chief Project Steward and an Assistant Steward, were the only staff appointed to supervise the activities of the Mess Operations Section. In November 1942, however, a second assistant steward was hired to supervise the operation of the mess halls. This assistant made daily trips to each mess hall to inspect supplies and sanitary conditions and observe whether rules and regulations were complied with, such as those governing hours of employment and rates of pay. In August 1942 a head butcher was employed to supervise the recently-constructed meat refrigerator, butcher shop, and cutting and distribution of meat.

According to Winchester, "The major part of inspection and all supervision involving the issuance of direct orders was the responsibility of the appointed staff insofar as central control was concerned."

Personnel: Evacuee — Attached to the office of the Chief Project Steward were six evacuees in supervisory positions, five of whom held the title of senior steward. Each had specialized responsibilities relating to labor, menu preparation, warehouse supervision, food and cleaning supply distribution, and technical supervision of chefs. Each mess hall was under the supervision of a chef "who had complete charge" and was "responsible for the satisfactory operation of his kitchen and dining room."

When Winchester returned to Manzanar as Chief Project Steward on July 1, he found that the staff in each of the mess halls had grown to 50-60 workers even though long hours were no longer necessary to take care of late arriving evacuees. Accordingly, he made minor cuts in personnel in each kitchen. As new mess halls were opened, he recruited the new staffs from operating facilities. When all 36 mess halls were opened he made an additional cut of two persons in each kitchen. At intervals this process was repeated until a staff of 28 was allowed for every 300 persons to be fed. An additional worker was allowed for each 20 in excess of 300, and one worker was removed for each 20 under 300. This ratio was maintained throughout the rest of the war.

According to Winchester, the majority of the workers in the mess halls were aliens, and "as time went on the preponderance of aliens over citizens gradually increased." The workers were generally older, "a number of them being in their 70's." Many were women "who spoke only Japanese and who had never previously been employed outside of their own homes."

The WRA undertook efforts to train young people as cooks. Under the "job title of junior cook," new workers with a desire to acquire a knowledge of cooking were given "practical on-the-job training" beginning in 1942. [30]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002