Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Women Eat: By a Woman (1922)

I found the article which appears below fascinating for many reasons. The first point of interests is that it was written by a woman (who is unfortunately not named,) although female opinion pieces were uncommon in high-profile newspapers of the time, even on “women’s issues”. The piece is also interesting because it speaks to so many topics which remain current almost a century later, - including gender equity, nutrition choices, dieting, and fat-shaming. I am particularly interested in your comments on this one, folks, so please don’t hold back.

(By a Woman Correspondent.)
While Sir Malcolm Morris is undoubtedly right in saying that some women eat too little, “partly because the pleasures of the table made little appeal to them, and partly because of their instinct for frugality,” he is certainly not right about all. He speaks of the chronic malnutrition of so many girls engaged in business and professional life and the illnesses that result from it. The feeding of women is far more a matter of what they can afford than most men, who like to regard them on certain occasions as a race rather than a sex, would care to admit.
While there are many women of the middle-classes who under-feed because food, in the choice of which and the preparation of which they find the routine of their lives, creates in them a feeling of nausea, the fact that families of this class have suffered so much from depletion of income is the real reason why the housewife denies herself, that there may be more for others – and not because she is frugal by choice. There are an immense number of women in every class of life who would eat more if they could afford it. This has been proved, and is being proved daily. As long as women have not got to choose or handle food they can eat just as heartily as men. The tradition that sugar and spice and everything nice is a feminine failing dies hard even when, as may be seen in the West End any day, numbers of men buy sweet dainties for themselves. The ordinary business woman in the business houses, where she “loves in,” has a solid meat breakfast, a meat meal in the middle of the day, afternoon tea, and a relish with her supper. She can supplement these meals from her own pocket or by parcels from home. When the firm supplies the food, she eats it because she needs it. She likes it, and she does not get any more money if she goes without it. The big drapery firms know this. They feed their girls well, on the whole, and though, as in all routine feeding, there is monotony, the complaints made to the housekeepers of the great hostels are very few.
            It is the girl who lives out who feeds badly; the City girl who is forced to have her lunch at one of the great multiple restaurants, which cook centrally and distribute the food to be reheated later, and where the food is not appetizing nor particularly nourishing. The amount spent by girl who live out has to be carefully balanced from a sum which pays rent, fares, and clothing. It is quite fair to say that, while the City male clerk is paid more than the women, his clothes cost him less, his rent is about the same, and he consequently has more money for food.
            During the war there were two interesting discoveries on the question of feeding. The women’s services, allowing the same rations per woman as the fighting men, found that women could not eat as much meat, and they consequently arranged to exchange art of their meat rations for dried fruits, sardines, and relishes. But the ordinary civilian man did not eat as much in civil life as in khaki. The women, who were in the main doing civilian work at the base, did in many cases eat as much as a civilian man and “filled out” accordingly. They ate it because it was put before them and they gained nothing by going without. During the war also an experiment in feeding working girls, called “Dining Centres, Limited,” was started by Mr. Arnold Glove – a series of restaurants where the working girl was able to get a cut from the joint, two vegetables, a sweet, and a cup of teas for a sum varying from 6d to 8d., which sum would have only given her a very meagre meal in one of the multiple shops. These dining centres actually paid a small dividend and proved not only that the working girl could be given cheap meals, but also that she preferred a good meal to a poor one when she got it for the same money.
            These centres had to be closed with the exception of one or two during the terrible unemployment among women of the past year. Many of the girls who used these restaurants were dismissed or put on half-time, and they could not afford to pay for their meals. Instead those who had half-time brought bread or a sandwich from home and ate it in the streets. Some of them took to the milk lunch, which is not a bad thing, and the West-end dairies had strings of girls at lunch hour having glasses of milk at 2 ½ d. each to go with their bread. On their pay day they usually went elsewehere. But the closing down of “Dining Centres, Limited,” was a proof that the state of a girl’s exchequer and the food she eats are far more closely connected than men critics, whether doctors or publicists, would like to admit.
Women are far more fastidious than men about food, and in the “dieting” in the large schools, the girls demand more frequent changes than the boys, though at the growing ages they are found to eat quite as much. At one large school there is a committee, consisting of a girl from each form, with a mistress as chairman, which hears complaints about food or suggestions for variety. The only starvation that goes on in girls’ schools is among the older classes, where slimness of figure and personal appearance become burning questions, and the naturally plump girl suffers agonies by comparison with sylphs who can eat heartily and not show it by increase of waistline. When voluntary starvation of this kind is detected by the house-mistress it is promptly dealt with.
            A good many women not of the working class pretend, from force of tradition, that they eat very little. When alluding to their fastidious and frail appetites they neglect to say how often they satisfy them. They omit the glass of port and the sandwich at 11 o’clock, which make up for the diminutive portion of grilled kidneys and bacon they had a breakfast; the many times they dive into the “nibbling tins” which are to be found in many boudoirs, the malted milk which they take after the exertion of a walk, and the very hearty tea with savoury as well as sweet sandwiches which they consume midway between lunch and dinner. The nibbling woman often consumes as much in a day as a working man. That she eats many of the wrong things is the reason for her visits to the doctor or to the chemist.

As the recipe offering for the day I give you several examples of sweet sandwiches, which are mentioned in the above article, and which seem to have been quite popular in the 1920’s.

Sweet Sandwiches.
Chocolate Sandwiches.-Stir one and a half tablespoonful of cocoa into two tablespoonsful of hot water and when smooth, add one quarter teaspoonful of
vanilla and one cupful confectioners' sugar. Blend all together well and stir in half a cupful of finely-ground nuts. Spread this paste on thin crustless slices of milk bread and put together in sandwich form, cutting into attractive shapes.
Orange Sandwiches. To one cupful of powdered sugar add two tablespoonsful of orange juice and one teaspoonful of lemon juice. Mix until smooth, then cream into it two tablespoonsful of softened butter. Spread on thin slices of white bread cut into diamond shape.
Cairns Post (Qld.) 17 June 1927

Sweet Sandwiches. American Recipes.
Marzipan: Work together a quarter of a cupful each of ground almonds and powdered sugar, add a pinch of salt, and bind with a very small amount of beaten yolk of egg. Mix to a stiff paste, then add enough thick cream to make the right consistency for spreading. Place between slices of thin white bread and butter and cut into fancy slices.

Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld.) 8 June 1926


Glenna said...

Wow. That was cool to see that, when honest, a lot of the same concerns are around today! Very interesting. I really enjoyed reading her essay. Btw, loved the "chocolate sandwiches". I immediately thought "Nutella!"

Shay said...

I wish I could remember the Shaw play, set in Ireland, where the heroine is the daughter of a shabby-genteel family. Shaw's introduction includes the comment that the hero, seeing her slim figure and delicate pallor, believes her to be spiritual when actually she never gets enough to eat.

Piet said...

I was very interested to see the remarks about women losing their appetite when they were the ones who had to choose and prepare the meals. I find cooking does the same to me -- by the time the food is ready to serve, I feel as though I've eaten a full meal, and in fact I don't taste and nibble as I cook, it's just the sight and the aroma of the food. I know this doesn't happen to everyone. My sister-in-law does all the cooking for her household and always has; she also does all the "nibbling" there, since my brother and I never got in the habit of snacking or nibbling between meals.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Glenna - Yes! Nutella! I dont know why I didnt think of that!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Piet. I am the same as you - if I do a lot of cooking, I am not particularly hungry for the meal - but I do love to see others enjoy it. We were never allowed to snack or graze between meals when we were kids, - and I am thankful for that.

Bella Rose said...

Would the play you mentioned, be John Bull's other Island? I've not read it on ages but I recall it took place in Ireland.
I just stumbled upon your blog today and I wanted to say thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I'm thrilled to be able to learn about food across the ages.☺