BY SIR LEO CHIOZZA MONEY.
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.
And who can doubt that it was more lack of knowledge than lack of means that gave us in the war those dreadful national service returns showing that out of nearly two and a half million examinations and re-examinations made between November 1st, 1917, and October 31st, 1918, only one in three were found to be men enjoying the full normal standard of health and strength, while 41 per cent. had either marked physical disabilities or that totally and permanently unfit. It is urged here and there every enlargement of the artificial food trade must increase the proportion of physical disability.
This leads us from the question of economic waste to the physical aspect of a very serious subject. It is not merely that the tins, pots, packets and bottles are wasteful of income in a high degree; it is worse that they are deficient in food value.
Unfortunately, our law as it stands does not prevent any enterprising person from doctoring food with colour, if he refrains from using dyes known to be “poisonous”. There is nothing to prevent a tin or bottle of preserved peas from being stained with aniline dyes. I recently took the trouble to submit tot he Ministry of Health a quantity of green matter derived from a can of preserved peas.
I was informed in reply that the quantity of material I forwarded was too small for examination, upon which I made rejoinder that the Ministry could very easily obtain any desired quantity of the objectionable colouring matter by buying some more of the tins. I was also given the following official information: “It is a common trade practice to treat canned peas with certain aniline dyes not prohibited by the Preservatives Regulations in order that their colour may approximate to that of fresh peas.”.
I do not myself believe that any proper authority exists for the conclusion that to does the human alimentary canal with repeated applications of aniline dye can be otherwise than injurious, and apart from that point, it is surely reprehensible and opposed to public policy that a manufacturer should be allowed to stain or paint, or dye a stale vegetable to make it look fresh. The supply of an adequate quantity of fresh vegetable food is very important in human diet, and nothing should be done to prevent it. The law does actively prevent it when it allows the tinting of stale foods.
The employment of colouring matters to improve the appearance of foodstuffs sold for human consumption is governed by the Public Health (Preservatives, etc., in Food) Regulations, 1925-1927, and the Food and Drugs (Adulteration) Act of 1928. Under the regulations are given schedules of certain colouring matters, the use of which is prohibited. A number of metallic colouring matters derived from antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, lead and zinc may not be used at all.
Gamboge is barred, and five coal-tar colours are on the prohibited list. Generally, the matter is governed not only by these definite prohibitions, but by the provision that no person shall mix, colour, stain or powder any article of food with any ingredient” so as to render the article injurious to health.” As the Ministry of Health holds that aniline greens are not injurious to health, a large amount of aniline green is administered to our population. The results are unknown, but positively they cannot be good, and negatively they injure the public health by suggesting that preserved green food is as good as fresh.
The process of metabolism by which dead food is built up into living tissue are still most imperfectly understood, and they take a deadly responsibility who allow the diet of a great population to be tampered with even while it is raised in price most extravagantly. It cannot be good for the subtleties of transformation to be jeopardized by ignorant producers whose only concern is to make the largest possible profit out of selling tiny parcels of impoverished food.