Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Food Packaging, Then and Now. 100 years of consumerism.

The Consumer Age took off in the 1910 era with the New Advertising in the Women's Magazines, ads that were about lifestyle and mood and not about plain facts. Read Threshold Girl, about the 1910 era in Canada. The ad above is for Ivory Soap.

There are lots of silly articles on the Web. The other day I read one that claimed, 'not all processed food is bad for you.' Well, duh!

And, then, they gave an example: Pre-cut fruits and veggies. (Now, there's processed food full of chemicals and pre-prepared food, which they appear to be mixing up. The pre-prepared foods are a fast-growing market.)

Sure, pre-cut fruits and veggies aren't bad for your body, but they are terrible for your pocketbook.

The other day I visited the local IGA in an upscale suburb nearby that was selling a small plastic box of pre-cut pineapple for 4 dollars and fifty cents.

Indeed, an entire section of this glitzy store is devoted to such convenience foods for the harried upper middle class parent.

Except that there were about 10 chunks of the tropical fruit in the box.  That's about 45 cents a chunk!

And just a few feet away they were selling the pineapples, for 2.99..,So the markup is about 1000 percent. And you get more heavy-duty plastic than edible product... not good for the environment at all.

I know that cutting pineapple is a messy business (I get my hubby to do it in our house) but I wonder who has the money to waste on such things?

Some people, I guess.

I often rant here the amount of packaging in the modern grocery  store, how it has increased exponentially over the last two decades - since  recycling has been widely encouraged.  (And then they dare charge us for plastic bags.)

Seems counter-intuitive on one level, but it probably makes some sense, logically.

The more packaging on a product, the more mark-up for the store and the consumer feels no guilt, because he or she recycles and buys those skanky re-usable bags that end up full of flop sweat and dog hair and baby snot that is handled next time around by the bagboy/girl and transferred to MY food purchases, every avocado and artichoke of which now has to be covered in plastic film  for health reasons.
My grandmother made her baked beans in this pot. Baked beans were one of the first canned products widely advertised in magazines. Housewives (or maids) didn't mind being freed up from the task of making this dish. Today, I buy the beans dried and cook them. Even canned beans are costing too much these days. I made turtle beans yesterday and will add them to a pasta and steelhead salmon dish.

Anyway, yesterday, I discovered a bulletin by the Canadian Food Controllers  from 1918 complaining about the packaging trend, packaged cereals in particular.

The government was worried that packaged cereals were over-priced, over-advertised, and not as nutritious as plain old porridges and such. All very bad for the poor citizen.

No kidding!

They made a rule:  The price at which these products are sold to the consumer must not exceed a reasonable profit on bulk goods plus the cost of the container.

Food invoice from 1901 from the Nicholson Collection: Read all about the rising cost of living during WWI in Not Bonne Over Here on Kindle.

In the late 70's or early 80's, I recall reading an article by the Food Writer for the Montreal Gazette, where she insisted the price of cereals (5 dollars a box) must be made to come down. In those days, I believe, President Nixon had put in laws that seriously lowered the price of grains, but still the packaged cereals cost a small fortune.

Starting in the 1900-1910 era, packaged cereals, first conceived as healthier than heavy traditional breakfasts, became popular and soon they were the iconic consumer product of the 20th century: puff in a colourful box, packaged to appeal to kids  and advertised to families during (and in) all the popular television shows like the Beverly Hillbillies and the Monkees.

(Well, Coke is the TOP iconic consumer age product. I notice that Coke sponsored the recent Women's World Cup. "Coke is happiness" is the new slogan, except that that is the first slogan from 1900. In those days, Coke really was happiness in a bottle.. as they advertised, not just sugar and caffeine and caramel colouring. The original Coca Cola copy says "The bubbles suggest happiness.")

In the 60's, my father tried to feed us porridge (which tasted very good cooked overnight in a double broiler) but we kids cried for Coco Puffs, basically salt and sugar and chemicals and air.

I don't think we drank too much coke back then. I've never liked carbonated drinks.

Sorry, Christine Sinclair.

And watching Wimbledon , today, and admiring all those lithe super-fit young tennis players, I notice half the ads on TSN are all for junk food/fast food, when they are not Harpo propaganda. Well, Genie's Pinty's ads are an exception.

So it goes.

The irony today, or should I say the Catch-22, is that buying grains in 'bulk' at places like Bulk Barn costs a small fortune too. (Supply and demand: wealthier people buy the healthy grains.) They sell candy, too, and almost give it away. It now pays to eat crappy, except when you factor in medical bills.

Here's a bit of the article, published in the McGill Daily, of all places.