Monday, October 25, 2010

Canadian Food Purity 1910

I've written a lot about the PURE FOOD Movement in the US in the first decade of the 20th century, and how virtually every new food or household product claimed, in its advertisements, to be pure, Ivory Soap being just one of these many products.
And I've written about a Dr. Wiley and his fight in the US against the patent medicine people, many of whom ran off to Canada to keep in business.

An article from Macleans in 1912 about Food Standards quotes Wiley as saying `he will continue to work until the whole family of preservatives and colorants are in the boneyard.`

So Dr. Wiley was well known even in Canada even if his laws did not much matter in this country, except with respect to exports.

This Maclean's article claims we have our own Dr. Wiley, a Dr. A. McGill of the Food Standards branch of Inland Revenue.

Like Dr. Wiley, McGill is concerned with patent medicines, their more dangerous ingredients as well as their outlandish claims. And like Dr. Wiley, McGill is concerned about soft drinks, but not so much the additives, but the fact some are spiked with alcohol. But he's not a temperance type: he is also concerned that alcoholic beverages are often watered down. And he is concerned with milk, not so much with respect to contamination, which is a huge problem in Montreal. He is concerned with quality control. Milk in Canada, he says, must contain at least 3 and a quarter percent milk fat (it was rich back then).

This 1912 article mentions some canned goods that are diluted, not dangerous, just a waste of money, and suggests if housewives were as diligent as they once had been, few of them would be cheated out. Apparently, canned goods didn`t exist until the 1890's.

Dr. Wiley in the US, who got the 1908 Pure Food Act pushed through was a crusader. Our Dr. McGill appears to be the diligent civil servant.

Wiley ended up on the wrong side of history with respect to the preservative business: preservatives and colourants became huge business in the middle of the century as we all well know. Only lately have preservatives in food re-emerged as a potential health issue. So we now have "natural foods" and "organic foods" etc.

If Dr. Wiley of the US was aiming to stop the new preservative industry in its tracks, Canada's Dr. McGill was more circumspect. Salt, sugar, vinegar, he said, were old-fashioned time-tested preservatives that were also dangerous if over indulged in, so why condemn the new chemical preservatives. (This is a rather prescient remark, considering the huge amounts of sugar and salt in fast foods and convenience foods and the impact they are having on our health.)

Ivory Soap, like some other iconic 20th century brands, also succeeded in the 20th century due to advertising that was more visual than verbal, life-style oriented, aimed at making housewives feel better about their lives and their homes. This style was created at J. Walter Thompson.

I think Macleans has an article about the new and influential profession of advertising. I'll write about that next.