Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to feed Immigrants.

December 13 …

Most experts say that we humans orginated in Africa, which means that all of us have migrant ancestors I guess. Migrating slowly and in a spreading fashion from your place of origin over many millenia is, however, quite a different thing from a sudden transfer across an ocean or two because conditions in your homeland have become untenable. There is no time for cultural adaptation and language-learning for starters, and in fleeing one set of bad conditions, there may be exposure to other less obvious dangers.

One of the dangers faced by migrants in their new home is that of being ripped off by unscrupulous persons who take advantage of their confusion and vulnerability. The writer of an article in an American newspaper on this day in 1894 expressed some concern about the potential for abuse of the system of feeding emigrants at Ellis Island – their point of arrival in the United States. It was noted that there was a potential for fraud created by the sale to private individuals of lucrative restaurant rights on government property with a captive clientele of newly arrived “ignorant customers”.

When the immigrant has changed his European money for that which passes in this country, on landing at Ellis Island, his next business transaction is most instances is buying something to eat. … It is doubtful if one half of the 343,422 immigrants who landed at Ellis Island last year knew at just what stage of their transit through the big building they ceased to be under the direct orders and supervision of the United States authorities and free to set for themselves. … It is doubtful that there is another restaurant in the world where precisely the same conditions exist as at this one. It is on Government property, it is owned by private individuals. …. Many of its customers do not now how to count the money which they pay for what they buy. None of them ever saw it before; most of them will never see it again. Their purchases are made in a hurry. They do not ask for prices; there is no time. These are posted conspicuously, but many customers cannot read, and the formality is useless in their cases. They do not ask what is to be had in many instances. They take such quantities as are put into a paper bag and handed to them. They give a piece of money and are give some change. They add the paper bag containing the food to their other bundles and pass on, stolid, stupid, half-dazed, out into the United States.

The man who conducts the restaurant alone knows what his sales amount to. He makes no report to the Government as to the number of sales or their values. The Government sells the privilege; the man who buys it does the rest. No one else - not even the immigrant - has much to say about it.

Why should not the Government control this business, and by a businesslike system of reports make it certain that the immigrants are protected so long as they are on Government property and practically under Government jurisdiction?

The article goes on to describe the Bill of Fare posted behind the counter:

Rye bread, two pounds....10c
Wheat bread, two pounds....10c
Wheat bread, one pound...5c
Swedish bread, two pounds....10c
Rolls, each....1c
Pies, each....10c
Bologna sausage, per pound...20c
Boiled ham, per pound....30c
Corned beef, per pound....25c
Cheese, per pound....20c
Coffee, per cup.....5c
Milk, per pint.....5c
Soup, with bread, per bowl....10c
Sandwich, ham or corned beef, each....7c
Sausage and bread, each.....13c, 2 for 25c
Soda water, ginger ale, or sarsaparilla, each, small....7c
Do, large.....20c
Smoking tobacco....10c
Cigars, each.....5 and 10c

At the bottom of the bill is this notice, in large letters: "Prices are regulated by the Commissioner of Immigration." This notice is posted by virtue of a clause in the contract, which the successful bidder for the privilege makes, under which the Commissioner is at liberty to fix the prices which may be charged for bread, sausage, soup, &c.
… Few college graduates have sufficient knowledge of the modern languages to keep this restaurant. It requires a linguist to sell these pies and bologna. The process, as observed the other day, is peculiar. The quantity purchased was fixed by the man behind the counter, and he depended somewhat on the length of the journey ahead of the immigrant. As the half-dazed European approached the stairs where he was to look after his baggage, the man behind the counter shouted at him, in a foreign tongue. Presumably he asked where the immigrant was going, for the latter produced his ticket and showed it to the man behind the counter, sometimes saying something in his native tongue.
, eh?" repeated the man who dispensed bread and sausage. The immigrant nodded and grinned, knowing as much about the location of Scranton as he did about Tasmania. Before the grin died away the restaurant man had made up a "Scranton lunch," that is, one which was supposed to be enough to last until the immigrant reached that place. This consisted in most instances of one big loaf of bread, one bologna, a chunk of cheese, and a bottle of beer or ginger ale. If the immigrant had been going further more luncheon would have been sold to him.
These things were put in a bag of tough brown paper, the price was paid, and the immigrant, stolid as a graven image, passed down to the baggage room. This process was repeated at a rapid rate. Bread and bologna went in a steady stream of brown paper bags and cash came to the restaurant. Some days 3,000 luncheons of this type were disposed of.
The immigrant does not know whether he has his money's worth or not. There is no record of his transaction. He makes no protest at this treatment, and if he wanted to, it would be difficult for him to make out a case against the restaurant.

The article does not suggest that the current owner of the licence is cheating, he merely points out the potential for dishonesty. There were others who were looking out for the new citizens, and migrants (as well as other ‘poor’ folk) were specifically addressed in a publication by the American Public Health Association in 1890. The little volume called Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking Adapted to Persons of Moderate and Small Means contains nutrition advice and simple recipes for three price ranges: for a family of six these were, per day, 78 cents, $1.26 a day, and $1.38.

The author of this book is big on the importance of soups. She says “at least three nations, the French, German and Italian, make daily use of them and have for generations. To take part of our food in this form is an absolute necessity if we are to do the best possible with a certain amount of money”. How true. Bean soup would have been a familiar and comforting dish to many of those immigrants: here is one version from the book.

Bean Soup.
Ingredients. 1 lb. beans, 1 onion, 2 tablespoons beef fat, salt and pepper.
Additions, to be made according to taste. ¼ lb. pork, or a ham bone, a pinch of red pepper, or, an hour before serving, different vegetables, as carrots and turnips, chopped and fried.
Soak the beans over night in 2 qts. water. In the morning pour off, put on fresh water and cook with the onion and fat till very soft, then mash or press through a cullender to remove the skins, and add enough water to make 2 qts. of somewhat thick soup. Season.
This soup may also be made from cold baked beans. Boil ½ hr., or till they fall to pieces, then strain and season.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A little bit of seal meat.

Quotation for the Day …

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind. M.F.K. Fisher

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