Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What one woman eats.

The concern about food adulteration and safety which led to the formation of the “Poison Squad” and the eventual promulgation of the Food and Drug Law in the United States (which provided yesterday’s story) did not belong solely to enlightened food chemists and socialist writers. The story was taken to the women’s clubs by at least one convert – Mrs. Winifred Harper Cooley. The New York Times in March 1909 reported her address to the ladies of the Rainy Day Club.

“Mrs. Winnifred Harper Cooley told the members of the Rainy Day Club at their meeting yesterday afternoon in the Hotel Astor, that “the food goblins would get ‘em in they didn’t watch out.” She told them that the food adulterators neither slumber nor tarry, and that, while it was alright to take drugs under the doctor’s order, it was dangerous to mix up a lot of them “in our midst,” as bad food people will hand them out to us if not watched.
To show how many opportunities there are to take in bad food, Mrs. Cooley read a schedule of food eaten by one Englishwoman if she lives to be 70 years old. The statistics are guaranteed by a man by the name of Soyer, who, with a passion for facts, and, perhaps, an antipathy to the female sex, compiled them. In her three-score years and ten of life, according to the figures, the Englishwoman will eat 30 oxen, 200 sheep, 100 calves, 200 lambs, 50 pigs, 1,200 fowls, 300 turkesy, 260 pigeons, 120 turbot 140 salmon, and 30,000 oysters.
“Think what a chance for typhoid germs!” interpolated Mrs. Cooley. 
Also she will eat 5,745 pounds of vegetables, 244 pounds of butter, 24,000 eggs, 4 ½ tons of bread, an indeterminate quantity of fruit and candy, and she will drink 3,000 gallons of tea and coffee.
“These next two specifications, I think, must have been intended for men,” said Mrs. Cooley, as she wound up the awful array with 548 gallons of spirits and 49 hogsheads of wine.
“Prof Shepard, State chemist of South Dakota, has proved that in the day’s three meals one may take in thirty-five doses of poison … and 14,000 does in a year.”
Potates are pure, and it looks like we might have to live on them.
In sausages there may be found coal tar, dye, and borax; bacon is cured with creosote, (liquid smoke), maple syrup is made from glucose and hickory bark and contains sodium sulphite; pure oatmeal is eaten for breakfast with cream preserved with formaldehyde; blue points [oysters] are preserved with powdered borax, and there is formaldehyde in pork and beans. ….
… The country is in a serious condition. The commission appointed by the President has reported that some chemicals are not harmful to food, though Dr Wiley has proved that they are. He is a man who could not be bought, and no one knows what he has suffered, for there is no doubt that the Board of Agriculture is against him. (Applause). But by taking pains and looking at the formulas on the wrappers and patronizing honest dealers, we can protect ourselves. Some canned goods are put up under better conditions than they could be in a private kitchen. It ahs been proved that things can be put up without preservatives, and we can find out the good manufacturers if we try.”

A one-hundred year-old battle – and I fear that we have far more ‘safe’ chemicals in our food now than when Mrs Cooley made her speech. What do you think?

In honour of Mrs. Cooley’s idea of safety in potatoes, I give this recipe from The New York Times of September 1910. The article was on Emergency Dishes for the Hostess, and the writer tells the story of one housekeeper suddenly surprised by ‘a guest of epicurean habits … with nothing more special than a broiled beefsteak as the main course of her meal.’ She comes up trumps with the steak and shows her resourcefulness with the potato dish.

Delicious Potato Fluff.
… made of six leftover potatoes, which in less skillful hands might have been warmed up or fried.
The skins of these tubers were removed, and they were put through a colancer, after which there were added one gill of hot cream, a tablespoon of salt, a small piece of butter, and the well-beaten whites of three eggs. The preparation was cooked in a baking dish (using a moderate oven) until prettily browned all over, and was served at once.

Quotation for the Day.

How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to the young?
Paul Sweeney.

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