Why hang food in bags (Movie: 1917)
January 11, 2020 11:52 AM   Subscribe

In one bit of the movie 1917, the protagonists are making their way through an abandoned front line of the Germans. Part of the area includes an underground bunkhouse with beds (stripped of all but frames, springs, and a few overlooked personal momentos). But there also canvas food bags hanging from the ceiling; what were they for? The rats were nosing at them but not wholesale eating at them: one bit of dialogue indicates it might be food. Would that have been a thing, to hang up your ration?
posted by tilde to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For tight, confined spaces keeping stuff up off the floor makes it easier to stay clean. I remember a scene from Das Boot showing food supplies for the submarine stored in nets high up on the walls. An underground bunkhouse might also be prone to flooding, and there are many stories of trenches flooding in WW1.
posted by migurski at 12:48 PM on January 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One good reason to hang food is to keep mice or rats from getting into it, but it takes a little more than just suspending it from a rope or string. You also need a barrier partway down the string, as in this picture of typical food hangers from a backpackers' shelter. Maybe the bunkhouse in the movie was based on actual photos but the people making the movie failed to understand the purpose of the hanging bags so they showed rats nosing at them instead of the rat barriers that might well have been in use in real bunkhouses. Even without a barrier, having the food inside a hanging bag would make it a bit harder for rodents to get into and would keep it from getting wet or being stepped on or knocked over. If I had to store food in a place with no shelves, tables or storage boxes, I probably would hang it.
posted by Redstart at 1:12 PM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

The 1936 book The Good Master is based on author Kate Seredy’s childhood in Hungary. There is a scene where a visiting and kind of bratty cousin is found hiding in the rafters, eating the family’s food stores, which are all hanging from the ceiling. There is some description of the scene, with various foodstuffs cascading from the ceiling as they try to force her down, here. From this book, I would guess that hanging food from the ceiling to protect it was not uncommon in Europe during this time period. The book is set in the Hungarian countryside just before World War I, so not far from the time period of your movie.
posted by FencingGal at 1:31 PM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you don't have cabinets, ceiling-based storage makes some sense. Keeping it off the floor means more space for sitting, sleeping, tables, etc.
posted by amtho at 1:34 PM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Moisture is the other issue. You don’t want to find your food bag in a puddle.
posted by thenormshow at 2:56 PM on January 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hanging won't keep every animal off it, but it'll keep it away from dogs and pigs and chickens etc, and make it harder for climbing animals as well as giving you as much time as possible before the bugs find it. It keeps it dry and aerated so it lasts longer, and away from mud- and shit-covered-shoe spatter, and out of the way of people and stuff that needs what little flat surfaces might be available. On boats and maybe even in rickety dwellings, hanging will keep it from falling off a shelf and becoming damaged.

I know it was done in my great grandparents' farmhouse (Arkansas, early 1900s), in the pantry as well as in the cellar. The primary threats there were farm animals and children, but damp was a concern too.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:45 PM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I can see that in the close quarters of an underground bunkroom. Seems the bags were by their heads, so easy enough to hear/swat rats.

Thanks all!
posted by tilde at 5:47 PM on January 11, 2020

I just bought the modern equivalent for potatoes and onions, to keep the light out (and the produce dry and aerated as pointed out above).
posted by meijusa at 12:19 AM on January 12, 2020

Reasons were to keep the food dry and provide airflow to prevent spoilage and also smoke and warm air from open fires rising up would keep insects away and help dry things like smoked meats or herbs etc.

People had cats and ratting dogs or even snakes back then for rats, they would have been less common than popular media would have you believe in a regular family home. Thatched roofs provided a lot of habitat for insectivores like lizards or spiders keeping fly populations low in that area. Also the food was safe from domestic animals, cooking activiitese, fresher food and general dirt and dampness being tracked in and out.
posted by fshgrl at 1:00 PM on January 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

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