In a book devoted to practical advice on eating, we can not attempt to give any encyclopedic information regarding the production, manufacture, and marketing of food. Such facts as I note in this chapter are, therefore, given because they throw light on the more immediate personal food problem, or suggest industrial changes that any one interested in food reform would do well to comprehend and advocate.
As pointed out briefly in Chapter V, the present diet of mankind is not the result of, following either the dictates of natural food instincts, or of any recent and scientific plan for the proper nourishment of the human race. Man made his conquest of the world and became the dominant species because of his ability to adapt himself to changes in diet and his ingenuity in increasing his food supply. As we see the world in its present state, both the kind of food and the amount of food produced are subject to the economic laws of supply and demand.
In other words, food is at present produced for profit, and the farmer or food manufacturer gives us such food as he finds we will pay the most for in proportion to its cost of production. If the foods so provided for us are not the best that might be provided, it is because we will not demand and pay for better ones.
The chief criticism that the food reformer, interested in the health and efficiency of the race, has of the present system of food production is that it gives us an over-supply of foods derived from grains and from the flesh of cattle and swine. This overproduction of grains and meat, which is the fault of the entire modern scheme of world food production, is exaggerated in the United States. This is due to the fact that this country is still comparatively sparsely populated. We wrested from the few roving Indians their vast hunting ground and found it to be the richest of the world’s productive lands. The easiest way to mine this store of fertility, accumulated through vast geological ages, was to crop the land with the grains or graze it with cattle. So we have cereals and meat in abundance, and in the matter of food quantity the United States is the best fed nation on earth. But our system of food production is not the best suited for developing human efficiency, nor is it the most economical and efficient way to support mankind from the soil.
Grains yield a comparatively large amount of starchy fuel food with comparatively little labor, but the cropping of the ground with fruits, nuts and vegetables will yield more total food and far more varied and wholesome food. One has but to observe the corn plant in comparison with lettuce or cabbage to appreciate the waste of grain production. The stalk of corn, with its abundant foliage, is a rank and luxuriant growing plant from which we merely shuck the seed earthe corn’s provisional store for the next generation of the plantand discard as human food the bulky remainder from the plant.
Though the leafy corn fodder finds some use in feeding animals, the stalk is not even used for that purpose. Worse yet, the great bulk of the
grain crop of corn is not used as human food, but is also fed to animals. Agricultural authorities, in America at least, assume this to be a proper form of husbandry. It is a profitable form merely because it is less laborious than more intensive agriculture required for the direct production of the human food from the soil and also because we, as a comparatively wealthy nation, can afford to eat the meat and pay for it.
We also thought until recently we could afford a similar waste of food substance in the production of alcohol. The inference that meat is as harmful as alcohol is an exaggeration; but meat is certainly physiologically of less worth than the better varieties of vegetables; and, economically, the production of meat involves a total waste of human food producing capacity of the soil many times greater than the former waste in the production of alcohol.
As calculated by the United States Food Ad-ministration, the total amount of human food consumed per year in the United States is 130 millions of millions of calories. But the total amount of food substances consumed by farm animals is 686 millions of millions of calories, or five times as much! If we had no animals we could support five times as many people! Allowing for the food eaten by horses, dairy cows and laying hens, we can safely say that meat production alone halves our available human food supply.
The ratio of waste of nutritive substance in the feeding of plant foods to animals varies with the kind of meat or other animal products produced. It takes about ten or twelve plant food units to produce one food unit in the form of beef. The ratio of waste in the production of mutton is nearly as great, though it his in its favor not only the great human utility of the production of wool, but also sheep (and goats) which are the most capable of all animals of existing in arid or barren regions. Swine are much more efficient in retaining the energy value of food, requiring only about four or five plant food units to pro-duce one food unit in animal form, but most of this extra energy is in the form of lard. In both beef and pork production the waste is inexcusable, not only because of the loss of the food sub-stance, but because there is no nutritional superiority in the quality of the products so wastefully produced.
The dairy industry stands in an entirely different class. The dairy cow is the most efficient of all animals in this matter of food conversion, requiring only about four units of plant food substance to produce one food unit of milk. Still more to the credit of the cow is the fact that her product has a decidedly higher nutritional worth than the plant foods from which the milk is produced. While the human race can exist without the use of milk and its products, there is no known diet as efficient as the lacto-vegetarian for the nutrition of the race and particularly for the nutrition of children.
The production of eggs by hens specially bred for that purpose, while not as efficient as the production of milk, is more efficient than the production of beef; and like milk, eggs are a food of superior nutritional value.
In the case of both dairying and egg production there is a meat by-product that man, with his meat loving appetite, will never have the extravagance to waste. Uninformed city people may be under the impression that beef production and dairying are merely two halves of one industry; this is not the case; the majority of our beef comes from the beef breeds of cattle which produce but little milk other than that used for the calves. In well specialized dairy farming the only meat produced is from the young male calves and the cows that have served many efficient years as milk producers. Such a meat production, even with an increased milk production, will be far less than our present output, and the total nutritional waste involved will be much less. The hog could be eliminated from our civilization with no loss to mankind. The chief use of this animal has been the production of fat, and in America we have an abundant source of food fat in economical cotton-seed oil. More-over, the growth of the world’s nut crops and other oil producing plants, as well as the desirable increase in the production of butter fat, would permit of the elimination of lard from our diet.
We would not be much better off in matters of food quality if we merely attempted to utilize as human food the grains now wasted in meat production. This change would indeed increase the total quantity of food and enable America, now producing scarcely enough to feed her own population, again to contribute abundantly to the feeding of other and less fortunately situated people.
But it is not the mere utilization of these foods now wasted on animals that is needed, but rather the use of our fertile land to produce a better quality of human food directly from the soil. The most efficient method of converting the soil fertility and the sun’s energy into human food, is in the production of quick-growing, tender vegetables, all, or nearly all, of the substance of which may be consumed by man. In the case of fruit and nut crops, it is true that we consume but a small portion of the plant; but that seeming inefficiency is largely overcome by the fact that the fruit or nut tree stands for many years; hence the bulk of the plant is not wasted each season, but, like the body of the dairy cow, it is maintained year after year as a comparatively efficient instrument for producing a high quality food crop. Moreover, the roots of trees go deeper into the soil and utilize fertility that can not be reached by shallow growing annual plants.
It is to our vegetable gardens, to our orchards, our dairy herds and our laying flocks of hens that we must look for our most physiologically efficient and economically efficient sources of food. But these industries do require a higher order of intelligent husbandry, a relatively greater amount of skilled labor, and a greater degree of foresight for the future than do the cruder and more wasteful forms of skimming the cream of nature’s stored fertility by the grazing of animals and the cropping of grains. The man who en-gages in, or encourages any of these more efficient food producing industries, is a benefactor to the human race as certainly as the man who founds a library, or makes a labor-saving invention.
The question of the marketing of foods is one that more immediately concerns the consumer than do these fundamental problems of food production. The concentration of such a large portion of our population in the cities results in a great economic waste in the evil necessity of feeding such population upon foods produced on comparatively distant soil. Unfortunately this, cause of waste is the greatest in the case of the best quality of foods; milk, eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables are both bulky and perish-able; hence the process of getting them from the farms to the cities is expensive, and, what is worse, too often results in a loss of freshness and deterioration of quality.
It is a painful fact for the city consumer that the price he must pay for fresh milk or vegetables is more than doublesometimes quadruplethe price that the producer receives for them. The middleman is usually blamed for this seeming outrage. As a matter of fact, the middleman, that is, the jobber or wholesaler, deals in food products in large units and his profits per quart or pound are not much of a tax on the price the consumer pays. It is rather the cost of gathering these food products from their scattered sources, and, even more, the expensive process of their retail distribution and delivery in the city that piles up the cost. The entire scheme of food marketing is complex and confused, and no remedy has as yet been found that will entirely overcome the obvious wastes. Co-operated marketing by the’ producers is making rapid strides and doing something to solve the problem, but the chief financial benefits probably go to the producer rather than to the consumer. More-over, it is at the consumer’s end that the costs pile up most rapidly. What may be done to relieve the situation, in the way of co-operated buying by the consumers, public marketing enterprises, or direct marketing by parcels post from the producer to the consumer, remains to be seen. As an individual problem there is only one sweeping remedy for this high cost of food marketing and that is to get out of the city and get back to the land, or at least to the small community in direct connection with the land. Those. who are in a position to make this change without the loss of earning powers can certainly solve the cost of living problem. Moreover, if they will use intelligence, they can improve the quality of the diet.
While the country is the place where the best food may be had, it is unfortunately not always true that farmers are the best nourished. Ignorance and shiftlessness is the explanation. Many farm families are content to eat a few fresh vegetables or fruits in season and to live the rest of the year on pork, white flour and potatoes. The fact that the food they grow is relatively cheap makes them disinclined to buy vegetables, fruits, nuts from distant markets; or, if they do buy them, they get only the poor quality of commercially canned or dried products.
A family living in the country should by all means use an abundance of eggs and milk which may be had by their own labors or be purchased from the neighbors at half the price the city consumers pay. Vegetable and fruit gardens should likewise be developed to their fullest possibilities, and the crops planted for a steady supply from the first growth of “greens” in the spring to the late fall crops of winter-keeping fruits and vegetables. For the months when fresh garden and orchard products are not available the farmer .should preserve an abundance of canned or dried fruit or vegetables. Though such practice is not widely known, the exceedingly important leafy vegetables or greens may be dried or desiccated and so preserved for winter use. In warm and dry countries this may be accomplished by sun-drying, while in damp or cooler regions a simple desiccator may be constructed by any handy man, and all manner of fruit and vegetables, including greens, may be admirably preserved by drying.
Another way in which the farmer, or dweller in farm regions may very readily improve the quality of the diet, and at the same time achieve great economy, is by the use of whole grains. Chief among these is wheat. No better cereal food has ever been invented than wholc boiled wheat. When the cooking is started the day before, and the grain allowed to soak the whole night in warm water, or the wheat is left for several hours in a fireless cooker, whole wheat be-comes delicious. Ground coarsely in any rough mill, wheat makes a cereal food that may be more quickly cooked. The same grinding process, with the mill set firmer, produces the only genuine whole-wheat or Graham flour.
Whole corn hominy is another excellent and exceedingly cheap food, available to anyone who can procure clean, high quality corn. Corn must be boiled a long time to become palatable. Be-cause the outer thin bran of corn is quite tough and also because of the presence of a wood tip where it joins the cob, the pioneers developed the process of making lye hominy. It is made by cooking the corn in lye water for several hours. Then the thin outer skin and the hard woody tip may be easily rubbed off. The rich, oily germ is retained. The corn must be soaked for many hours, preferably in running water until all trace of the lye .has been removed. The chemically inclined reader can make this product by boiling the corn in caustic soda and washing out most of the alkali and neutralizing the remainder with hydrochloric acid, until it is neutral to litmus paper. The only chemical then left in the corn is a little common salt.
In commercial corn milling not only the outer bran and tip are removed, but the large germ, rich in oil, vitamines, and minerals, is also discarded. Freshly ground whole grain corn meal is decidedly superior to this commercial product. The fresher the corn the better. One of the most tasty of cereal foods is grated corn meal made from ear corn picked just before the grain hard-ens. The new crop corn even when hard enough to grind is of nearly equal flavor. Only those who have tasted corn meal mush or corn bread made of such meal can realize the relative inferiority of the commercial corn meal made of old dried corn and from which the germ has been entirely removed.
These superior whole grain food products are not so available to the city man. Whole or cracked wheat can sometimes be purchased in town, and genuine whole wheat flour and also so-called water-ground or whole grain corn-meal are in the market if one has the persistency to search them out and refuse the inferior substances offered by the millers.
The question of the preservation of food is important both from the standpoint of economy and wholesomeness. It would be better if we could partake of all foods in the freshest possible condition. In such a state, foods are not only more palatable, but in the various processes of preservation some of the vital qualities may be actually lost. Still worse, in some of the many manufactured foods harmful or poisonous chemicals may be added.
This latter evil, which was once very serious,. has been abated of recent years by pure food legislation. Some of the milder preservatives. are, however, still legally permissible, whereas the old-fashioned methods of preservation by salting, vinegar pickling, spicing and smoking never came under the ban of the law. Any such chemical method of food preservation degrades the quality of the food as well as adding to it, if the preservatives are not removed, an unnatural and harmful substance. We do not ordinarily think of salt and vinegar as “chemicals,” but it is the writer’s belief that used in excess these-old-fashioned preservatives are quite as harmful. as some of the strange, new chemicals, such as benzoate of soda, which frighten the housewife more because her grandmother did not use them.
Other than chemicals, there are three methods of preserving foods: The first of these is the application of heat, followed by sealing in air-tight containers; the second is the continuous. application of cold, or what. is familiarly known as cold storage; lastly, there is the process of removing all water by drying or desiccating.
The preservation of foods by heating and canning ordinarily does no more harm than the process of cooking; however, either process destroys some of the vitamines, hence a diet having no fresh or uncooked fruits and vegetables is inferior to one in which these foods are available only in the form of canned goods.
Cold storage is really one of the best methods of preserving food, if the foods are of such nature that they are not injured by freezing. Little if any decay can go on in frozen food. The prejudice against cold storage foods is partly an economic one, the consumer believing that the storage man buys the food cheaply in seasons of plenty and holds it until the season of scarcity and high prices. Of course, there is something to be said on the other side, as it costs money to run a cold storage warehouse, and the food speculator has to take his chances on occasional losses. The most important objection to storage food is that many of them are stored without freezing, and hence slowly decompose, sometimes developing ptomaine poisons in the process. Fortunately, the present laws demand that the cold storage food be sold as such, and the particular consumer may avoid them if he wishes.
The preservation of food by proper drying or desiccation is the least expensive and least objectionable method that can be used. As a matter of fact many of our food:;, such as nuts and grains, are naturally desiccated. Dates, raisins and other evaporated fruits are a wholesome and palatable form of desiccated food. Practically all fruits and vegetables may be desiccated; even milk, with proper facilities, can be reduced to a dry powder which retains nearly all of the qualities of fresh milk.
No form of preservation ever improves food, but the canning and desiccating processes do little harm other than the occasional loss of the fresh flavor. By all means use fresh foods at all seasons when they can be had at reasonable prices, but it is wiser to use the better forms of preserved foods than to omit essential foods or food ingredients from the diet.
The manufacture of food has, under our present industrial system, been developed to a wholly unnecessary degree. For the most part foods do not need manufacturing, but commercial instinct here steps in and finds some way to make a profit by grinding, mixing, pre-digesting and processing food. If the resulting product is something new or strange of appearance, or artificially flavored, the clever manufacturer is able to foist it on the public as something superior, and sell it at a sufficiently advanced price to make a profit thereby. As a matter of fact few manufactured foods are in any way superior to the natural food ingredients out of which they are made; and in many instances are decidedly inferior. Complicated manufacture of foods permits of disguising the original nature of the ingredients and hence encourages the use of inferior material.
Perhaps the greatest of all evils of food manufacturing is the refining and denaturing of cereal products, an evil which I have already had occasion to mention several times in this book. The absurd part of the situation is that all. such re-fining is expensive both because of the cost of the process and because of the discarding of part of the ingredients. The public has itself to blame for all this because it has demanded the uneconomical and inferior products. Today one is often charged more for whole wheat flour than for white flour, for the simple reason that there is not enough demand for the former to induce the miller to make it and the grocer to sell it at a reasonable price. The situation is still worse in the case of unground whole wheat which, though worth but two or three cents a pound, can either not be purchased at all in the cities, or if purchased, is sold for from two to ten times its value.