The English Review, August, 1933.
THE people, so largely removed from contact with Nature, increasingly consume artificial foods because they save time (to be otherwise wasted) and because of the continual spur of lavish advertising, all of which has to be paid for by the debilitated consumers. I often reflect with grim amusement upon the fact that the birds in my garden aviaries would reject with instinctive and proper scorn the costly preparations upon which millions of town-dwellers squander their money.
It would be bad enough if the tinned, potted, packeted and bottled foods formed a proper diet, for on the score of price alone the artificial food system is to be condemned. The majority of our people earning or drawing individual incomes have less than L3 a week, and a family of such income has good need to practise real economy and seek a real diet. It is clear, however, from the enormous sale of tins, pots, packets and bottles that the masses, the earners of small incomes, purchase great quantities of prepared food, and thus rob themselves of good value while contributing to swollen profits.
Whether in meat, fish, fruit or vegetables, the container offers exceedingly poor value. The retail profit made by selling a tin is far greater than the value of the food in the tin. There is no dearer way of acquiring food. Even in the case of fresh vegetables, the margin that stands between the producer and the consumer is indefensible; in the case of canned vegetables it becomes grotesque.
Thus, too, with fish. Some time ago the sardine people published details of the extraordinary contrast that obtained between the value of the fish in the tin and the price for which the tin was sold retail; it was shown that the fish accounted for an almost negligible part of the price, which was chiefly composed of intermediate wholesale and retail profits, the tin itself, the printed labels, overhead charges, and so forth.
Not only peas and asparagus, but the commoner vegetables are now offered in expensive tins. Lately I have noticed potatoes and even turnips canned for sale. It is not at all amusing to think that a fraction of a pennyworth of turnips is sold to an ignorant and careless housewife at a profit beyond the dreams of avarice.
It is bad to contemplate the wife of a clerk, earning only 50s, a week, spending her small household allowance in purchasing little doses of prepared food at wicked prices. It is worse to recall that the food purchased is not good natural fresh food – the undoctored, untainted material required for the renewal, for the repair, of the human body.
The Times published, in its issue of June 13th, a very striking letter by Dr. G. Arbour Stephens, Consulting Cardiologist of the Welsh National Memorial Association for Tuberculosis, directing attention tot he lack of what he calls a “national food conscience.” What good feeding can do for a race he illustrates for us by the melancholy contrast which obtains between the returns for rickets and bad teeth in a Gentile School and a Jewish School in the same poor district.
Where the Gentile children are found rickety as to 50 per cent., and with bad teeth as to 60 per cent, the Jewish children are found rickety as to 7 per cent. and with bad teeth as to 25 per cent. In a better class district, the Gentile children were found with bad teeth as to 38 per cent., while the Jewish children were returned at II per cent. The bad teeth of the British people amount, indeed, to a grave reproach.
This is not a matter of poverty; it is a matter of bad feeding. Thus, in Italy, which ranks as a “poor” country, the common people have splendid teeth and clean mouths, whereas in England, to put the matter in the most comfortable way, the facts are as indicated in the figures that have just been quoted.