Friday, April 18, 2014

Here and There about Suffragettes and Such




Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, writes in a May 2, 1913 letter to Mom: We are going to try and hear Mrs. Snowden. But she is not a militant. For which I am sorry. Edith was all for the militant suffragettes in Britain, even with all the sensational headlines in the local press. "Suffragettes set fire to this and bomb that." This letter was written a month or so before Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King's horse.


British Pathe has just put a lot of videos up on YouTube and that includes 'stock footage' about the suffragettes.

These videos are just a tiny bit 'jerky' as I've always known them to be.

When I was young, though, I thought the Edwardian fashions looked very silly, but I can now see that the women dressed very stylishly for the most part.

They had to to be a la mode.

 It was too easy to dismiss any woman who didn't look good - and the suffragettes knew it.

And, besides, this parading around was major theatre...spectacle...

I have a diary belonging to my husband's great aunt Elizabeth,  from the other side, his father's side. She visited London in 1910 and she actually mentions seeing the suffragettes.

I checked the date and it was this Hyde Park Rally.

Here's what it looked like from the British Pathe footage: I can't see Aunt Elizabeth though.


There were many many more men watching than women watching. I guess that's why so many of the suffragettes had to be so very pretty.


I found this too: a genuinely humungous hat at one of the rallies.

They were very big, these suffrage rallies, so no wonder most Montrealers wanted no part of the 'militant' movement.

(Not all participants were the notorious suffragettes of Mrs. Pankhurst's WSPU. But she got all the press. And future acclaim: they are filming a movie about them right now, starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst.)


About a day before unmarried 27 year old Edith wrote the letter at top, unmarried 27 year old Inez Milholland was leading a giant suffrage parade down New York's Fifth Avenue on horseback, carrying a banner in the colours of the WSPU: green, purple and white.

Edith probably read about it in the Montreal Gazette. Maybe the very same morning she wrote the letter. Who knows?

I suspect she was a bit jealous.


Inez was famous for her beauty too.  Here she is in that parade. It looks like a US Flag, but maybe not. The newspaper report in the NYT and Montreal Gazette (they shared copy for suffrage stories) says Inez  carried the banner. There were 10,000 at this orderly rally, including a Canadian contingent.

And just a few days later, at a meeting of the newly minted Montreal Suffrage Association, a group that promised at their inaugural press conference in March 1913 that they would be 'peaceful and reasonable' tsk tsk,' it was suggested by Press Secretary Mrs. Fenwick-Williams  that Inez Milholland, "New York Lawyer" be brought to Montreal to speak to them.

This never happened.

I suspect Carrie Derick (the President of the MSA) suggested it to Mrs. Fenwick Williams.

 Why? I think Derick attended the New York parade. She had been conspicuously absent from her duties  in Montreal at the end of April, beginning of May. The MSA had their first meeting April 29 and Derick missed it 'For Good Reason," according to the minutes.

 I suspect Mrs. Snowden also attended this rally and returned to Montreal with Derick to speak on May 5th at St. James Methodist.  Non-militant (maternal) Mrs. Snowden wowed the reporters with her beauty and eloquence. They called her "A daughter of the gods, divinely fair."

She said that she's use her vote to improve children's lives and in support of temperance.

I don't know if Edith heard her speak, or not.


Here's my first stab at making a WSPU Votes for Women Style pin... For a heritage event next month, om Pointe Claire, where I will talk about Edith and the Montreal Suffrage Movement and give out these pins...

or something like them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

British Pathe and Family History


Polly the Propeller Maintenance Person? My father, RAF Ferry Command pilot, didn't tell me gorgeous young women serviced his airplanes.


Yesterday I visited YouTube to find that British Pathe had just put up a slew of new refurbished films, including three showing the Prince of Wales' 1919 visit to Canada.

In Not Bonne Over Here, the Nicholson Family War Time Letters, Edith Nicholson sees the Prince in Montreal. She is standing on the steps of Royal Victoria College on Sherbrooke Street. She has a privileged vantage point as she is a member of the Navy League.

"I have seen the Prince and he is worth looking at," she writes to her Mom.

Unfortunately, the Prince's tour of Montreal is not shown on the Pathe newsreels, only a lunch on the Mountain with Mederic Martin.  So I didn't find Edie in the crowd! I would have known exactly where to look.

It's a brief clip and Mayor Martin is shown sloppily wiping his mouth with a napkin.

The Prince of Wales throws one back beside Montreal Mayor Mederic Martin in 1919 meet and greet atop Mount Royal.

Odd. Maybe there were not enough people on the street. But David, the Prince of Wales, who would become Edward VIII and then abdicate for 'the woman I love' was very popular in Montreal.

He stayed in the new 'ritzy' Ritz Carleton on Sherbrooke on his visits. Other British Royals stayed at the traditional Windsor.

And,apparently, the Prince liked to party with Mayor Mederic Martin.

When he visited Montreal again in 1924, he asked for his friend the Mayor, who had temporarily lost his job.

David came to Montreal again in 1927. I write about his visit in Milk and Water, about Montreal in the era of American Prohibition.

Mederic Martin was back in power that year, although he was thrown out by Camilien Houde in 1928.

In the 1919 movies, David, who has come to Canada to thank us for our effort in WWI, loses the use of his right hand from too many greetings. For the Western swing of his trip he shakes with his left hand.

What a job! No wonder he abdicated!

The British Pathe Collection also includes a newsreel about the Canadian 'Scotties" (or Kilties) leaving for Europe in 1916.

Not Bonne Over Here has letters about the event. The Nicholsons were from Highlander stock and some of their friends were with the "Ladies from Hell."

It seems these 'colourful' soldiers were used a lot for photo opps.

While perusing these British Pathe films, I took the opportunity to look up FERRY COMMAND WWII to see if my father happened to be in one of them. No.

Many pretty girls did make the cut, though. My father, who was an RAF Ferry Command Pilot stationed in Dorval, Quebec, didn't tell me that young women worked maintenance on the airplanes he flew.

The British Pathe film shows a woman cleaning a propeller and two others perched on a wing.

They are movie star beautiful and I suspect this isn't a coincidence.

Lovely ladies doing maintenance of bombers and such. War changes everything.  The only women usually allowed on airplane wings were acrobats, willing to dance the Charleston for the camera in flapper dresses mid-air.

I also fell upon some newsreels of Expo 67. Apparently, Princess Margaret and former First Lady Jackie Kennedy visited Expo on the very same day, although their paths did not cross. (They were not wearing the same outfit, thank god!)

Who arranged that? What a faux pas!

I, myself, didn't see these two beautiful and famous women at Expo. I saw Bobby Kennedy and Haile Selassi. I put the incident with Bobby Kennedy in my eplay Looking for Mrs. Peel.

The ultimate photogenic First Lady touring Expo 67 in Montreal.. I saw her brother in law with his family on the Expo grounds.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Irony of Life - When it comes to Mothering

Lux Soap, ad.. 1910 era. Lux went on to sponsor a highly popular Radio Theatre. The 1900 era was the Age of Soap and Water.  In the mid 1800's, scientists in England and France figured out that squalid living conditions led to disease, so now it was time to clean up the working class so that they could be more productive workers...and eventually that task fell on Mom.


A few days ago, the Guardian reported that the hugely expensive Tamiflu vaccines given during the last bird flu pandemic period of  hysteria  might have been fairly useless, especially for kids with asthma - a major target of the campaign.

Gee. I'm not surprised.

But this got me thinking about other instances where  health hysteria may have been counter-productive.

In the 1900 era, the housefly was being blamed for transmitting all kinds of diseases to humans, cholera and typhoid for instance.  The germ theory of disease had been figured out by then.

Suddenly, having houseflies in the home was a sign Mom wasn't doing her job.

One answer to this problem was flypaper. But flypaper was toxic. Highly toxic. It contained arsenic, I think and who knows what else.

As a kid in the 1950's and 60's, I do not recall having flypaper in the house (although we might have had some) but I do recall seeing it in houses we rented for vacations.
A 1910 issue of Technical World Magazine contained an article on houseflies as crop wreckers. "Much has been written about the health hazards of flies" is the lede.


And since it was a new thing, we loved to play with it! It hung in strips from the ceiling, after all. And bugs got stuck to it. Boys especially found this gory property fascinating!

In my story, Threshold Girl I have Flora Nicholson tell some friends she is off to buy a new kind of flypaper, one that comes pre-cut. I did this for a reason.

I do believe original flypaper came in cards that had to be cut by hand.  Over the century, products got easier and easier to use.

I am not sure if I ever got poisoned by flypaper as a child, but I sure of something else. My mother, like all mothers in the era, was afraid of trichinosis, the little bug in raw pork. So she cooked our La Belle Fermiere Sausages until they were encrusted in a thick black layer of carbon.

And she was an otherwise excellent cook, never over-cooking anything. We ate our hamburgers almost raw.

Of course, carbonized meat is carcinogenic. But she didn't know that.

Today, I wonder about all these anti-scent products being promoted non-stop on TV.

As humans we have a fear and loathing of bad smells (for good reason).

In the old days, before an understanding of germ theory, experts thought that diseases like cholera and typhoid actually emanated from bad smells.

But I wonder if the chemicals in these products are more harmful than the smells. Some people think so.

In a letter from Not Bonne Over Here, from 1919, Marion Nicholson writes her mom and says her 'baby' has been sick with a cold and has spent the entire week upstairs.

By that time, everyone knew about germ theory, although it seems a little harsh to keep a two year old upstairs for a week just for a cold.

Of course, the world had just come through a dramatic period, the Spanish Flu. The Nicholsons had lost many friends to the flu (and to the war).

In a few years, this same baby, Marion Hope Blair, my future mother-in-law, would contract Scarlet Fever and stay in bed in the country at her grandmother's for an entire year!

It was a period she remembered well, and with great fondness.

... I think I've since lost it...but I once had a  little note from a mother of one of Marion's or Flora's students, a note that had gotten stuck in a book.

It was a letter of complaint and I think the Nicholsons kept it because it contained poor grammar and was unintentionally funny. (Maybe not, though.)

The woman's daughter had been sent home for having a dirty face and she didn't think this was right. (She was also angry at having to pay 25 cents for a school fee.)

I guess it was a school policy to send unclean kids home, an instance where health-hysteria got taken too far.

But it certainly says something about the era and the role Moms were expected to play and the class prejudice involved in the hygiene movement.

Both Marion and Flo taught the children of working class parents.



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mr.Selfridge and Me




 May and Flo in their home-made middle class clothes. In Mr. Selfridge a fashion designer 'predicts' that soon ordinary women will be buying clothes off the rack.



I've been catching up on my Mr.Selfridge period piece. I'm a year behind. I only heard about the show a couple of months ago and it took me some time to get into it.

I think I wasn't sure about Jeremy Piven in the lead role; he isn't the usual classically trained type you find in Period Pieces. (Maybe he is.)

But now I've watched 7 episodes, and I like it. How could I not? It covers much the same territory as my Nicholson Family letters and my Threshold Girl e-book.

The show isn't as compelling as Downton Abbey, which uses a tried and true formula featuring the rich and the poor but no one in-between.

Like the mini-series Testament of Youth, and my Threshold Girl, Mr. Selfridge showcases  the  middle class.

Usually this would be a problem, because the middle class doesn't wear nice clothes and nice clothes are what Period Pieces are all about.

(Even the 'dowdy' Lady Edith in Downton wears the most swoon-worthy dresses. Wow, that orange flapper thing this year. To die for!  And Lady Mary's Grey Chanel style suit a few scenes later.  YUMMY.

The 1995 Pride and Prejudice didn't have many nice fashions. The Bennett girls rotated a few dresses, which was historically accurate.  But that show had other things going for it, didn't it? Andrew Davies wrote P and P and he also wrote this Mr. Selfridge.)

But Selfridges is about a department store, and therefore all about fashion and other fun things. So the glitz and glamour of that place balances out the dull drab boarding rooms they also must show.

In one episode Mr. Selfridge and his staff are debating whether to sell make-up out in the open!

When I first started writing Threshold Girl I put in a scene about make-up. I had May Watters and Flora Nicholson visit Sutherland's in Richmond and talk about 'rouge de theatre."

I didn't put that scene in the final story.

Threshold Girl is just another Edwardian period piece, but it is based on real letters and it has a very Canadian Two Solitudes theme.  In Montreal in 1910, Henry Morgans at Philip's Square was considered the place for respectable women  to shop. Oh, and  also Ogilvy's on Ste. Catherine, where, in 1910, Edith buys a BIG hat like the one she is wearing in the picture below. ($7.50)


Edith and Flora dressed up sitting in the Tighsolas Garden

If memory serves, Selfridges is now owned by the Canadian company Loblaw's. Loblaw's just changed the name of its Quebec stores  back to Provigo because Quebecker's didn't like the "Ontario" sounding Loblaw's.  Hmm.

Here's the bit I cut out of Threshold Girl.
Both Flora and Mae walked with Margaret down to catch the 10:20 train to Quebec the next morning. (Her trunk had gone in ahead of her)

In the Richmond station Margaret underlined her instructions to them for the third and final time, handed them a little pocket money, climbed on board the train, and waved goodbye from the window seat, as they ran up alongside the train, just for fun, just like children.

Sister Marion, would only be arriving on the 4 o'clock from Sherbrooke, so they were free until then.

They popped into Sutherland's drug store, and had Barry, Sutherland's boy, pour them a cherry phosphate from the giant barrel at the soda bar.


Every employee in the store wore a clean white coat, including young Barry. They teased him a bit about it as they handed over 4 cents for the drinks.

With a flourish of his right arm on the crank, Barry rang their purchase into the cash register, dropped the coins into the drawer and slammed it shut- like a seasoned pro twice his age. He was showing off.

But there was their pocket money half gone, in an instant.

The girls sat for a few minutes at the soda bar, slurping the fizzy drinks in unlady-like fashion, and then took a stroll around the spacious store with its wrap around glass and maplewood cabinets lined with bottles and books, and its mystifying mix of mediciny aromas, the alcohols, the menthols, the sulphury fruit syrups, all with unpleasant associations.


They examined a display case of family remedies, as if they were looking at curiosities in a museum, Essence of Pepsin for indigestion (father used that one) and Spirits of Turpentine for the kidneys and Castor Oil. Ugh. They all took that in the winter.

There was an entire case of products for fatigue and lack of energy.

Her mother took Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Tonic, Mae remarked, but you can only order that by mail. Here's one for you: Dr. Barker's Malt Extract. Puts Flesh on Thin People.

Well, here's one for you. Dr. Hammond's nerve and brain tablets.

They leaned over the toiletries cabinet: Genuine Rose Water. Witch Hazel. All very unexciting.


In Boston, Mae explained to Flora, the bigger pharmacies even sold cold creams, face powders, and rouge de theatre. She said that last bit in her finest French accent.

Flora couldn't imagine J.C.Sutherland, druggist, and the town's most respected man of letters, allowing such 'scandalous' products like that in his store.


Sister Edith's term and she always smiled a bit when she used it. Grown women had their secrets. Even Edith.
But for women to purchase right out in the open? It was unimaginable.
They were having a giddy old time until they hit on the school book section. Sutherland, secretary of St. Francis College, had the school text book concession in Richmond.

Here were stacked some crisp new copies of of Euclid's Geometry, MacMillan's Latin, and oh, dear, her Elementary English Composition book, Bertrand Sykes PhD, Copp Clarke and Co. Flora's bubbly mood suddenly evaporated.

"Let's go home," she said.


By the time they made it back to Tighsolas, only stopping twice to talk to people they knew, she had recovered somewhat from her setback.

Mae released Floss from her rope. The dog jumped up and then madly pin-wheeled, first to the right, then to the left, in a dizzying blur of black and white canine ecstasy. It's as if they had been gone for days.

Floss liked her freedom. She was known to everyone in the community. But Margaret had been afraid Floss would follow them to the train. And dogs were often killed on the train tracks.

Flora and Mae were on their own, with only Floss to protect them from the tramps, and that, in its way, was thrilling.

What would they do with their time?

Mrs. M had been out hoeing in her garden, when the girls had passed, and she had looked up.

They hoped she would not come over right away.

What a wonderful feeling. Free time to yourself. No grownups about. No work to do. Margaret had left the kitchen spotless, of course,so that it did not look, to any nosy neighbours, that she was in any way abandoning her duties.

Flora glanced at the icebox. The door was closed. There was no leakage on the floor.

Their one responsibility was to make sure that the collector pan didn't overflow, oh, and to feed Floss, and, should Terry McJ. come around to fix that pane in the basement window, to make sure he replaced it with a pane of identical thickness.

Just three things to remember, until Marion arrived.

Wait, there was one more thing,but what was it? The most important thing! To pick up 2 pounds of beef tongue at Pope's Butchers on their way home from the train. To marinate if for Marion. Whoops!




Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Place where Hygiene and Values Intersect




May Fair Wells, who figures in my ebook Milk and Water. She was a Southerne Belle who expected her servants to do all the housework, except sewing. She liked that. She lived in Westmount, a rich suburb that sent its sewage downstream to the poorer areas.

Yesterday, I audited a Johns Hopkins course about the History of  Public Health and the professor explained that the Urban Hygienist movement of the Victorian Era issued out of Jeremy Bentham and the idea of Utilitarianism.

Ironically, it was in Paris where medicine men first figured out the epidemiology of urban diseases like typhoid.

But, apparently, they didn't feel that the governments should get involved with 'cleaning things up' as this would interfere with the individuals rights.

It was in Great Britain, in Manchester and such cities, were the urban hygienist movement  got rolling, because it was understood that healthy workers made good workers (and good soldiers).

Individual rights came second to the general good with these English.

Utilitarianism.

Kind of ironic, really, if you think about it.

In Montreal, the issues around tainted water supply and sanitation ushered in the modern welfare state, at least according to some scholars.

......

Using primary sources allows students to learn history from the inside out.

So does genealogical research.

A few years ago, I purchased and read the book, The Age of Light, Soap, Water and by Mariane Valverde, but there was little in this book that  I didn't already know.

I had been researching the background to the Nicholson Family Letters for my books Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, books that take place in the 1910 era.

In 1904 and 1909 there were typhoid epidemic in Montreal.

 Norman Nicholson, the family patriarch, who had contracted typhoid in 1896, wrote in one letter that he was afraid to drink the water anywhere, including up in the Bush in La Tuque where he was working.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Macdonald College, way out at the tip of the island in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where Flora Nicholson studied to be a teacher in 1911/12, had put in a well in 1909/1910.

Before that, for three years, they had been using river water.

Ste. Anne was far away from where Montreal dumped its sewage but there were fears (real or imagined) about the quality of the water out there.

Herbert Ames, the Privy Man, who wrote The City Below the Hill, revealing how many Urban Montrealers still used outdoor toilets in 1897.

But with Protestants, like the Nicholsons, in that era, the concept of cleanliness got mixed up with the concept of godliness.

That's why I opened Threshold Girl with this quote from a 1911 issue of Food and Cookery Magazine.

"Give us a healthy home, where the homely virtues prevail, where the family basks in purity and peace."

The Nicholsons were a wonderful and  devoted family  who loved their fine home, Tighsolas, but their closets held skeletons too. Plenty of them.

When I wrote Milk and Water, about by French Canadian ancestors in 1927 Montreal, I discovered even more about the place where ideas about hygiene and values intersect. (It's a very complicated place.)

1927 was the year of another typhoid epidemic in the City, caused by tainted milk this time.

It was also a year of many scandals, one of which was the Montreal Water and Power Purchase, where a rich industrialist, Lorne Webster, flipped said company in a few days for a $4,000,000 profit.

The City of Montreal bought the private company in 1927 to control the water supply to their newly annexed suburbs.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services, was made a scapegoat  for this fiasco and he was forced to retire in 1930.

Jules was a 42 year old veteran of City Hall, who had started out as a messenger boy in the Sanitation Department in the 1880's.


The Art Deco Facade of the Public Bath on Amherst opened in 1927. Montreal had 16 such baths in the era.

Milk and Water explores the different values of French Canadians and English Canadians in 1927, the era of American Prohibition.

One key  area where values diverged was with this Hygienist movement. French Canadians were wary of the movement for reasons centered around class, ethnicity and religion.

My grandfather was on the City Clean Up Committee and he is quoted in the newspaper as saying "You can't force people to be clean."







Thursday, March 27, 2014

What a Difference Four Years Makes

Here are two letters from Not Bonne Over Here, the WWI letters of the Nicholson family. These two letters span the war, but they don't reference it. 

The Nicholson women lost many friends to The Great War and to the Spanish Flu, but their own close relations, including brother Herb, didn't enlist. 


That means, of course, that they didn't get to vote in the 1917 Conscription Election, despite being avid suffragists.

 (Only the wives, sisters and mothers of soldiers could vote in that election. Most Canadian women would get the vote in 1918.)

This must have bothered the Nicholson women who were active in war-relief work, but if it did, they didn't complain about it in their letters.  

I'm publishing these two letters together because they are amusing, read side by side.

The first letter from 1914 is from Marion Nicholson to her mother, explaining how helpful her husband, Hugh, is with the new baby.

The second from 1918  is from Hugh to Marion, begging her to come home from a visit to her Mother's, complaining about being left alone with his inconsiderate sisters- in-law.


October 29, 1914
281 Old Orchard

Dear Mother,

Your letter came yesterday and I was glad to get it and I can tell you that you need not worry about me doing any work for I do not get the chance as Hugh is a regular "Biddy" now and makes a very good one indeed.

I certainly could not get along if I did not get so much help from him.

In fact, I can say he does almost all that needs to be done and as for having any hands in water, I only have them in when they are not clean in need of a wash.

The Baby I think is getting along fine.

I had two nights that she cried and fussed so much that I was up nearly all night.

At least I was up from one until four and there is not much night after that,  is there?

I fancy now there was not much the matter with her, but at the time I did not know what to do with her.
 However the last two nights have been much better. I only hope they will last.

Now, Mrs. Morrison was in yesterday with her little boy, he is a fine little fellow, but quite big for six years.
She found that the baby had grown and thought her doing fine.

Tuesday night Isabel and Allen walked over here.

Just imagine Isabel taking that outing. She is so discouraged with waiting* that she is getting desperate.
She sent in the money for the eggs which I was to give to you to take home so I will send it tomorrow.*
Purves was in this week and came up for tea on Tuesday. He found a big change in wee Margaret. .
We weighed her today with her clothes all on as I forgot to when she was having her bath and Hugh said it was 9 1/2 pounds but that seems too much to me.

If I can think of it I will try again tomorrow.

This afternoon Dr. Clark of St. Andrew's called and Hugh luckily happened to be in and now he is going to send to Three Rivers for his certificate and put it into St. Andrew's.

He seemed to like Dr. Clarke.

I think it was just as I said long ago; he needed a little pressing.

I told Dr. Clark that we had Flora here too and she he said he would come to see her sometimes.

We are going to get three sittings there so will not be Church Wanderers any longer.
\
He was enquiring for Edith. Said he knew her quite well.*

With love to all,
Will stop for this time.
Marion



 July 16, 1918
39 York, Westmount


My dearest sweetheart,

I cannot express in writing how pleased I was to hear your voice over the telephone a little while ago and was very sorry when I learned that due to the circumstances, you were not able to come home.

Dearest, I have never written you on this strain since I have known you and before I say what I have in mind, I beg of you to please try and understand it in the light that I mean it.

 For Marion, dear, I love you with all my heart and it is because of my affection for you that I try to pave the way a little. I honestly, would not intentionally hurt you Marion.

Now sweetest, here it is: You know, Dear, that you have left me alone at different times for indefinite periods, but may I say that I have never yet found one month to be as long as this one.

Really, it has seemed to me almost like years. I would a thousand times rather be left entirely alone than to be left again with the girls, as I cannot get them to  do anything which appears to me to be reasonable.

I have come home on several occasions and the front and back doors were not locked. They will not close the windows and the house is almost like an oven. They forget to order food.

The refrigerator is left open; the ice is melting as fast as you can put it in. Cawlice. Water is running all over the floor and things are lying about. I am sick and tired of the whole place. 

Take pity on me, Darling, before I go crazy and come home to me to look after and love me. but under no circumstances take chances (with mother's health). 

Take it from me, God help the poor man that gets either one of them, if they don't change.

You can do more in five minutes than they can do together in a day.  You have forgotten more than they'll ever know. God bless you Marion and may it be God's will that he can spare you to me for many long happy years.

Lovingly,
Hughie

PS. Don't fail to burn this when finished reading.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fighting Back against the Pet Food Industrial Complex

Cat food started to be manufactured in the 40's and by the 60's there were thousands of brands, with Puss N Boots the most popular.  You can find many Puss N Boots TV ads on YouTube and print ads all over the place. From what I can glean, the brand is advertised without any raw STATISTICS showing what it actually contains. The ads were all marketing doublespeak, even back then, with highly ambiguous copy.


Nothing irks me more than a merchant who disses his own inventory.

I went into the local pet store the other day to buy some 'gourmet' cat food, cheap gourmet cat food at 59 cents a small can - as opposed to the brands at 1.50 a can or even more.

I found the shelf  and noticed most flavours were sold out.

I gathered a tall armful of  flavours that remained and walked gingerly to the checkout.

I asked the owner, as I unloaded the cans onto the counter "Is this cat food discontinued?"

"No," he replied.

"Oh, good," I said. "I thought it was discounted  because it was being discontinued. My cats like this brand. They really gobble it up."

"No, it's cheap because it is a lousy cat food," he said. Your cats gobble it up because it is full of salt."

The owner picked up a blue-green can, squinted and read the ingredients. "Meat by-products," he muttered, shaking his head.

"Well," I said sheepishly. "I supplement their food with real meat, like chicken liver. But usually they won't eat even the finest Pacific coast salmon."

"They won't eat it, " he answered, "because they are used to junk food. Just like people."

I half laughed, paid for the dismal little cans of crap and left the store.

However, I was not laughing inside, I was peeved.

I just  hate being emotionally blackmailed by someone who benefits from all the BS around the Pet Food Industrial Complex. It's bad enough with the Vets.

(On a recent visit, my vet complimented me on the wonderful health of my two older cats, their shining eyes and glistening coats but when I told her what grocery store food we were feeding them, she said it was very bad food.)

I wasn't born yesterday, I knew what the vet was doing (paying for her kids' Ivy League college careers) and I knew what the store owner was doing.

In fact, I was born a long, long time ago, and I can remember my mom feeding our black domestic tabby, Kitty Kat, Puss N. Boots from a blue-grey can. Puss in Boots that smelled of (gross!) FISH.


Puss N Boots may have smelled 'fishy' to me in the 1960's, but it contained by-products.. This ad shows a tuna and says that cartilage and bone is included for calcium, organs for nutrients and flesh for protein. But again, no statistics on what the stuff really contained.

My mother supplemented Kitty Kat's diet with whatever we were eating that day: raw eggs, stewing beef, calve's liver.  Sometimes she bought a bag of smelts just for him.

Kitty Kat lived to 17 and he was an outdoor City Cat.

I doubt that anyone from my generation is taken in  by all the BS around the marketing of cat food. We're not taken in, per se, but we still buy the stuff.

And we still believe BITS of the propaganda, probably cherry-picking that which resonates most from childhood conditioning.

 Like the line where they tell us not to make our own cat food because cats need special mystery nutrients. I ALMOST buy that one, because I can't find any evidence, one way or another.  And if there's no evidence, it must be true, right?

When I returned home from the pet store I vented to my husband. "We're being taken in by the cat food industrial complex, " I said, snarling, incisors bared, holding up a can of the cheap 'gourmet' cat food I had just bought, under humiliating circumstances, trying to read the list of ingredients through my reading glasses and using a magnifying glass.

Meat-by Products, grains, and a list of bizzaro chemicals that almost make me feel as dyslexic as my husband when I  sound them out.

"I guess the guy at the store is a BIT right. They are taking industrial sludge from the floor of a Chinese slaughter house and pawning it off as 'gourmet' (which means nothing) and charging as much for it as for a...ah...a box of fine rare Tuscan truffles. Hmm. 'Packaged in Canada. What does that even mean?

"You always say that, " my husband replied. "But that's how consumerism works. You know that. You wrote ads for a living, for Heaven's sake.

Corporations only care about maximizing profits, not about your cat's health, despite what the adverts say."

Despite what they have always said. (Yes, I wrote ads for pharmaceutical products, in those days aimed only at doctors, so we copywriters felt exonerated. Doctors should know better, we felt, than to believe any claims we made.)



Ah, the advertising. Lots of superficial feel-good claims, right from the beginning.  But where's the meat of the information??


Yes, it's not the first time I've been upset by this ruse. People are spending more than ever on their pets, a very recent news article claimed, and I'm no exception.

I've tried to make my own cat food a few times, but the trouble is the stupid cats won't eat it and I end up throwing it out.

Ideal cat food is supposed to contain 30 percent protein,  or so some web experts say.

 Most 'gourmet' brands  of cat food have 10 or 11, so no wonder the cats eat more than they need. They are starving for protein! (Not that it matters. They spend 90 percent of their time sleeping in whatever sun-streak they can find in the house.)

That's my take anyway - and I'm standing by it.

Talk about maximizing profits!

(And I suspect that  there's more than salt in these gourmet cat food products, addicting my cats. Catnip?)

But this time, I'm determined.

Even if I have to let my cats go without food for five days..

So, that night I make some cat food using ground turkey from Costco (the kind we eat) and other 'secret' ingredients and, guess what? It doesn't take five days,  just a few hours to get my big cat to eat the mush.

What did I do differently? Did I add catnip or something? Did I add (eek!) salt?

No,  I started to feed the cat's meal to the dog, right from the cat's own plate. The dog was more than happy to gobble it up.

My cat jumped onto the counter and started cat-chowing down.

Even those famously finicky felines can be psychologically and emotionally manipulated, it seems.