Do you think eating more carrots will improve your eye sight? If you said yes, maybe, or “Ya know, I’ve totally heard that might be true,” then you know just how far a government propaganda campaign that ended more than 70 years ago can reach when it comes to what we eat.
Back in World War II, British (and eventually American) pilots were tasked with the near impossible feat of engaging German bombers over the English Channel under cover of darkness. At the time, aviators had to rely primarily on their own senses rather than the suite of technological gadgets we use for intercepts in modern combat, but the advent of on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI) gave the Brits a fighting chance at locating the bombers before they could reach land. The thing is, if the Nazis were to learn about England’s new plane-based radar, they would immediately begin working to subvert it… so England’s Ministry of Information hatched an idea: they’d convince the world British aviators simply had incredible night vision.
Like any good misinformation campaign, they needed to find a basis in fact to use as the bedrock for their deception, and they didn’t have to go far to find it – it was already growing beneath their feet.
Vitamin A has long been known to be an important part of your diet for eye health, and for those with vitamin A deficiencies, eating food rich with the vitamin can indeed improve eye sight (back to normal, healthy levels, that is). With this in mind, the Ministry of Information looked for a food rich in Vitamin A to credit with their pilot’s “incredible night vision”–carrots.
Carrots were a brilliant choice for other reasons too: the war effort had limited sugar rations throughout the country, and people were eager to find snacks they could incorporate into their kid’s diets. What better snack on the go than one that’ll help you see during the government mandated blackouts intended to inhibit bomber targeting? By pushing carrots, the government was able to offset concerns about rationing other food stuffs, while convincing the Germans that they were shooting down their planes using nothing more than some good old-fashioned British agriculture.
The success of the campaign is difficult to measure, as it was only a matter of time before the Germans realized their enemies across the Channel were using more than good eyesight to engage their bombers. One RAF night fighter ace, John Cunningham (nicknamed “Cat’s Eyes”) managed to rack up 20 kills, 19 of which were at night – the Germans likely knew something was afoot. Nonetheless, in homes all around the world, parents still tell their kids to finish their carrots because it will improve their vision.
Featured image courtesy of the World Carrot Museum