Food Report

Primary Document Analysis “Food Report”

Xi Shen (Jesse)

On February 19, 1942, soon after the beginning of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The evacuation order commenced the round-up of 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage to one of 10 internment camps—officially called “relocation centers”[1] Within these camps Japanese immigrants lived together with the rest of community. Although seemingly trivial, food system within camps can actually give a reflection of life of Japanese Americans inside those camps. “Food Survey Block 2”, an interview with several Japanese Americans and chief of the kitchen in block 2, shows treatment to Japanese Americans is somewhat careless but not harsh and generation value tension grew faster inside internment camps.

‘Some mornings average, other times very poor’ is the guiding sentence of this document. It gives us the overview that food in these camps is slightly below the average under Japanese American standards. The primary audience of this oral account should be people in charge of these camps. Thus, there is a possibility of an intention to hint the administrators to enhance food quality inside camps, especially considering that the survey was done by WRA[2] in order to give a reflection of life of Japanese Americans inside internment camps. ‘Such a breakfast is just not enough to last them until lunch time.’ Here, interned Japanese Americans complained about the quantity aspect of food. Although this is an opinion statement, there is not much motive for the narrator to lie, especially because he backed up his statement by bringing in the topic of labor. Not just food is mentioned in the document. For example, “There was very little activity.” The value of these statements is that they give us a general picture of the overall living condition of Japanese Americans in relocation camps. The document was made in 1942, during which USA was at war against Japan after the Pearl Harbor incident in 1941. Despite the fact that Japanese Americans were not confirmed direct association with Japanese empire, under war policy we still don’t expect friendly treatment towards Japanese immigrants, since mentioned on p37 of Prisoners Without Trial, Chief Executor of Pearl Harbor “Robert reported falsely that a Japanese American fifth column had aided the attackers.”[3] On p47, Roger suggests “The reasons for the establishments of these concentration camps are clear. A deteriorating military situation created the opportunity for American racists to get their views accepted by the national leadership.”[4] This is a quite assertive statement, but it gives an explanation for the ill treatment. An alternative explanation is the “yellow-peril variety, depicting the invasion of the US by an Asian power, usually Japan.”[5] found on p23. But no matter what, Japanese Americans were not treated friendly in general. There are occasionally positive comments, too. ‘The menu for lunch is improving in general’ is an example of positive evaluation of food in camps and a proof of the statement ‘it wasn’t too bad’[6]. The existence of both positive and negative judgments makes this document in a way more objective. Although this kind of qualitative judgment is not suitable for measurement and comparison since they are vague and unsupported, it provides another picture of the incarceration camp —- the aim of incarceration camp is not to punish Japanese immigrants, but to study and contain them as potential enemies. Plus, this might be a result of the effort by WRA, which, under the lead of Eisenhower, has been striving to improve wages and living conditions of interned Japanese Americans. In Prisoners Without Trial, “Tuleans who are staying are often doing so because they didn’t want to move.”[7] and “The representatives of inmates and the JACL officials opposed closing the camps!”[8] are both great proofs that internment camps eventually became comfort zones of some Japanese Americans.

Secondly, generation value conflict, which had always existed between first and second generation Japanese Americans, was intensified in internment camps. First, let’s look at the cause. “The busy and varying working schedules of each member of the family also made it much more difficult to find a time to eat together, so mothers and children began to eat together, while fathers and older men ate together and older children began to eat together.”[9] In Eating Asian American, “groups based upon age and sex differences replaced the family as the traditional meal-time group and became a set pattern in several centers.”[10] All these can be the causes of intensified generation value conflict, since Isseis had less access to Niseis to “educate” them. There was ‘a time that included three years of her brother’s enlistment against her father’s wishes, and her near conversion to Catholicism”[11] In the food survey, “The Issei, first generation people, it seems are not satisfied with the daily prepared American style food.” shows that Isseis, who maintained many old Japanese customs, found difficulty adjusting to camp life. On the other hand, the Niseis occasionally express positive feelings on food. For example, “It’s not the type of dinner a person has been used to in the city but under these conditions it’s satisfactory.” In Prisoners Without Trial, “the older Niseis had tried to break out of the ethnic enclaves.”[12] indicates the generational feature of Niseis. On p68, “Many more of the Isseis wanted to return to Japan than could be accommodated on the vessel”[13] Thus, one can conclude that Niseis are in general adjusting to camp life faster than Isseis, whose old values no longer remained useful in camps. This could be an explanation for the fact that Niseis became community leaders and main characters within the camps.

Overall, treatment towards Japanese Americans inside Incarceration Camps is not friendly but reasonable, explained by the fact that although America was at war against Japan, Japanese Americans were not proven to have direct association with the Japanese Empire. Plus, generation value conflict is intensified in internment camps, and Nisei values started to outweigh traditional Issei values, with some Nisei becoming community leaders.



[1] Infoplease, ‘Japanese Relocation centers’, accessed Oct 29th, 2014,

[2] The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was a United States government agency established to handle the internment, i.e. forced relocation and detention, of Japanese Americans during World War II

[3] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p37

[4] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p47

[5] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p23

[6] Chrissy Lau, “Second World War” (speech, Ithaca, NY, Oct 23, 2014).


[7] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p56

[8] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p72

[9] Valerie Matsumoto, Japanese American Women During WWII (University of Nebraska Press, 1984),8)

[10] “Incarceration, Cafeteria Style: The Politics of the Mess Hall In the Japanese American Incarceration,” in Eating Asian America NYU Press, 2013, p 49

[11] “Incarceration, Cafeteria Style: The Politics of the Mess Hall In the Japanese American Incarceration,” in Eating Asian America NYU Press, 2013, p49

[12] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p45

[13] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial, HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1993, p68


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