Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Playing with Food Prices

The Popular English Pastime: Playing with Food Prices
By Lacey Amy
From Saturday Night magazine, Toronto, Canada, 25 November 1916.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, 25 September, 2017 for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca
Apology – This entry has been created from very old microfilm from a very old magazine. Certain areas of the graphic are unclear. I have endeavoured to reason at the missing parts of words. If there are errors, or if the meaning is not clear, it is my fault./drf

Scene I.
ONE chilly, but bright October afternoon on the Embankment below Charing Cross, I came on a curious crowd. It was in three parts, distinct in formation but connected in idea. On the pavement on the river side was a casual throng of idlers searching for entertainment on a holiday afternoon. Half a hundred yards distant, browsing in that air of detachment peculiar to their kind, was a squad of policemen, sixty or seventy strong.
The third portion, the centre of interest, was a medley of humanity splashed along the north side of the street, a mob, a clutter of Eastenders, made up of a dozen women, most of them with babies in their arms or in “prams” before them; half a dozen men who looked a bit sheepish but dogged, and a half hundred boys. I could imagine every street gamin within sight waving on his companions at the promise of a procession with a banner for everyone.
Without the banners it might have been only the incipience of a street riot, or a cinema queue. With the banners it became a tremendous Uplift Gathering, the Great English Public Speaking to its Legislators.
Everyone had a banner—most of the lads two—and a taxi load was left over after all hands were filled. “Down with the Milk Trust.” howled the placard of a seven year-old trust-buster. “My Father is in the Trenches. Give his Babies Milk,” pleaded a girl in Saturday-afternoon silk stockings and a keen eye for eligible young men. “Must Our Babies Starve?” demanded an aggressive female who, if she were not a spinster, was breaking all the laws of Nature. And red-nosed female hawkers bawled out “The Women’s Dreadnought.” Sylvia “Painkhoorst’s” mouthpiece.
It was very amusing. . . I went home and had milk as usual in my coffee.

Scene II.
TWO nights later. My coffee steamed before me and I reached mechanically for the sugar. It was not there. I rang, and my landlady entered apologetically. All afternoon she had gone from store to store begging a half pound of sugar. At ten groceries she had failed. My pet aversion, unsweetened coffee, faced me.
Ahem! It was coming too near home to be amusing. However, by Monday the Government would probably have released another supply.

Scene III.
WITH the evening paper propped against the cruet (there are still cruets in England) I was trying to while away my solitary meal without cursing the inconveniences of war. My landlady had just set before me a disturbingly small helping of mutton chop. Gradually it broke in through the Dobrudja muddle and the menace of temporary insufficiency that she had not left the room. I looked up, smiling invitation.
“I’m sorry, sir. but I believe I’ll ‘ave to ask a little mo’ for the meals.” She was stammering, twiddling with the other end of the tablecloth. “You see things have gone up so—twenty-five per cent since you came. (I wish the Government would stop issuing figures for the common people.) That bit of meat cost one and five to-day, an’ the herrin’ was fo’pence. An’ butter’s two shillings, an’ bread—”
Didn’t I know it? Hadn’t I been collecting prices for this article, with the result that I knew nothing short of stealing her supplies would enable her to feed me so well at such a price? Now I’m paying five shillings a week more—and the end has scarcely begun to begin.
No longer is it merely amusing, no longer merely temporarily inconvenient. The H. C. of L. (high cost of living) has become more than a literary treatise.

THE paraders were justified. Milk is now twelve cents a quart and gathering wind for another flight Also it is neither rich, nor good measure, not pasteurized, nor even clean. Newspapers and street agitation have effected nothing, despite the profits declared by some rural dairies on eight cent milk. Big companies have bought up the small, and forced those reluctant to sell by offering unasked to the farmer a price beyond what the farmer ever dreamed of.
The joke—in which the public does not share—is that the farmer learned quickly. His winter contracts now call for nine cents a quart, which means that twelve cents is waiting only until a new price list can be printed.
Sugar is not a sweet subject to contemplate. It will be recalled that the Government took over stocks and importations at the commencement of the war. The only visible results are that sugar is now doled out in homeopathic doses by an independent grocer, who sees in it the opportunity of securing new customers. It is still only twelve cents a pound—if you can get it.
In his most liberal moments, no grocer permits more than two pounds to leave his store with one order, and always other goods must be purchased. Usually the supply is a half pound at a time, and for that fifty cents to a dollar must be spent. Some co-operative societies have issued sugar tickets, a hole punched at each purchase.
And there are weeks when entire villages are sugarless. This summer no jam was put down in private houses, and all kinds of recipes are abroad for putting down fruit without sugar. I have tasted some of them and am living on other “sweets.”
Before the war sugar was four cents a pound. Beef has gone from twenty-one to thirty-four cents, butter from twenty-eight to fifty and more (most families arc content with margarine, a tasteless and perishable, but satisfactory, substitute at sixteen to twenty-four cents a pound), cheese from sixteen to twenty-eight; eggs from three cents to whatever you look able to pay, up to ten cents; and tea from forty to fifty-six cents for the cheap varieties. Bread is twenty-one cents a four-pound loaf, and at that is cheaper than in Toronto, I understand. Before the war it was eight cents. And it has but begun its climb. I see that on Saturday wheat rose eight per cent., making forty-five per cent. in four months. It is now higher than in the past hundred years. Potatoes are four cents a pound and six cents is promised.
Fish, a hand-to-mouth article of food in this insular country, fluctuates from day to day. On Saturday soles were seventy-eight cents a pound wholesale, and cod (with head and insides) twenty-seven cents. A dinner for three shillings or less takes no account of any fish but herring and haddock, with now and then a taste of hake or whiting. Many fish stores have closed owing to the uncertainty of supply.
Fruit and confectionery are luxuries of which to dream. In a store window the other day peaches were sixty cents apiece, nectarines thirty-six cents, small melons sixty cents, grapes a dollar-and-a-half a pound, pineapples eighty-four cents, pears thirty-six cents. Fruit of this kind is usually English, than which there is none better grown. For some time oranges were not on the market, owing to Government shipping regulations, but latterly these restrictions have been removed and fair oranges are five cents each. I have yet to see, even at seven or eight cents each, an apple that would be tempting to a Canadian at home.
English confectionery never did compete with the kind sold in a hundred shops in Toronto, either in price or quality. After a study of windows I cannot find the cheapest stuff under twenty-eight cents a pound—not equal to the fifteen cent varieties in Toronto—and bonbons are not eatable under a dollar a pound. The kind obtainable at fifty cents so readily in Toronto when I left is not to be had here at any price, but a fair imitation costs a dollar-and-a-half.
Coal (soft, mind you) is nine dollars a ton, and is held there only by the Government regulation of prices at the mine; the retailer asks what he pleases. Matches, once four cents a dozen boxes, are now eighteen cents. Tomatoes have never been below twelve cents this summer; and at that they do not take the place of the Canadian kind since they will not ripen in the open save in the extreme south. I have dared to mention here tomatoes ripening outside up at Fort Vermilion and in the Yukon, but comment like that slides off the contented Englishman.
I have begun to prepare for winter—and that to a Canadian brings visions of central heating. An ordinary coal-oil heater costs six dollars, and a small electric heater which I am sure I could purchase in Toronto at eight dollars was going to cost me thirty-eight dollars. For anything that savors of modernity it would pay one to visit America on a shopping expedition. It is lese majeste to introduce into England a new system of heating.
Restaurant meals that used to cost a dollar-and-a-half have been lowered in calibre and raised in price to a dollar-eighty-five cents; and I see that even the “dosser” (real English for “tramp”) is asked to pay sixteen cents instead of twelve for bed and breakfast at Lord Rowton’s lodging houses. So where is one to lay his head?
If you own a car—you probably don’t unless you are a military official, the Red Cross having requisitioned it or forced you to sell it in self defence—your gasoline asks for sixty-eight cents a gallon, with an additional twelve cents to the Government for letting you buy any.
Sixty-eight per cent. is the Government estimate of the increase in the cost of living since the war began.
Only threatened strikes on railways and in mines forced the Government finally to recognize conditions. But the realization of the necessity for action is but the first of a dozen steps before action is taken. Some of the Government’s best friends (and remember that the Government is coalition) are firm in the belief that a report will be made and stem measures taken—if the war lasts long enough.
Up to the present the only effect on prices is to boost them, except where a threatened investigation into the hoarded tea frightened the shippers into reducing prices. A Cabinet Minister two weeks ago stilled an incipient rebellion by stating that sugar was cheaper here than in America—in spite of the fact that sugar at that time was quoted at eight cents in New York and Toronto. One of the Government Departments went so far as to wave a reproving hand at the farmers. “Oh, fie’” it gently upbraided. “Now you really shouldn’t charge more than eight cents a quart for milk, you know. We may—um—we may have to consider doing something in the matter if you keep on “ A Wheat Commission merely bemoans the high price and is contradicted in its findings by everyone concerned. A Food Prices Commission could do little more than advise a meatless day a week. And the House towered to grand heights of patriotism in demanding of the munition workers—who are at it in the Woolwich Arsenal twelve hours a day—that they eschew holidays. After which it hastily packed its bag for a six weeks’ holiday of its own.
As this is being written the South Wales Miners’ Federation threaten to organize a great strike unless the Government takes full control of the food supplies; and the Scottish Mine Workers also make similar threats. Profiteering has passed all endurance in this country, but the trouble is that wealthy M. Ps. and members of the Lords are interested financially in almost every industry, and of course block action.
Hands Across the Sea! If we could only reach that ideal now there’d be one hand going empty and returning fulL Personally mine would return with Canadian bonbons, Canadian apples—and a whiff of Canadian sunlit air.
The people who are suffering most in England now, and who will continue to do so after the war, are those who live upon unearned incomes. A man with an income of $50,000 a year from his estates or stocks in England is receiving only $25,000 a year, as 40 per cent, goes to the Government and the other 10 per cent, is taken up by the increased cost of living.
The price of food, according to the Duke of Marlborough. who keeps up a big household, has increased 100 per cent, since the war began. A correspondent for a New York paper finds that eggs are ten cents apiece in London.
Barrie. 14th November. 1916.
Editor. “Saturday Night ‘.
DEAR SIR,—I have read with amazement and considerable indignation an article entitled “The Canadian Incubus.” by Lacey Amy, in your issue of November 11th—amazement at some of the statements made in the article, and indignation at its unfair and ungenerous tone toward Canadian women in England. Will Mr. Amy give the name of the “great London paper” which stated that “hundreds of thousands of Canadian women have followed their husbands to England,” and also the date of the issue in which this statement appeared? And will he also give the address of any boarding house “in and around London.” where fifteen dollars a week is asked for “board and one semi-furnished room”? I should inspect such a boarding house, when I return to England and also to see the people who are foolish enough to pay such a price for such accommodation—although one would think that an Asylum for the Feeble Minded would be a more appropriate place of residence for them than a boarding house. I enclose the address of a house in the Bloomsbury district of London (well known to many Canadians for years past) where a comfortably furnished room with excellent board may be obtained for twenty-eight shillings per week. These are the rates which were asked and paid last August. I also enclose the address of an excellent boarding house in Bayswater, where the terms are thirty to thirty-two shillings a week. And there are many others “in and around London” equally good, and at equally reasonable rates.
As to the “sad Canadian housewife” who paid nine cents apiece for eggs, her place is certainly with the inmates of the fifteen dollars a week, semi-furnished boarding house. The “Weekly Times” of October 27th quotes the price of eggs in London as three shillings and sixpence a dozen, and yet the “sad Canadian housewife” was “forced” to pay at the rate of four and six a dozen at least a month earlier!
In a paragraph concerning work in England for Canadian women, the following astonishing statement appears: “Frankly, don’t believe the appeals which fill the English papers. As the editor of a London paper said to me: ‘That is only one of the War Office frolics’.” Does Mr. Lacey Amy actually expect sane and intelligent Canadians to believe that the War Office publishes appeals in the English papers by way of a joke? They are much more likely to think that it is the editor of the London paper who is indulging in a “frolic”—at the expense of the credulous Mr. Lacey Amy.
One impression given by this article is that London is overcrowded with Canadians. The plain fact is, that even “at such a camp centre as Folkestone.” where Canadians are far more numerous in proportion to the general population than in London, the “little Dominion” which they form consists of (leaving out the troops) a floating population of from five to six hundred scattered through Folkestone and the adjoining towns and villages of Bandgate, Hythe, Sandling, Cheriton, etc., where the general population amounts to at least forty thousand. It is evident that the presence of the Canadians cannot affect conditions very seriously, and the fact that accommodation can be obtained without the least trouble in Folkestone and its neighborhood shows that there is no overcrowding. As to London, the Canadians there are leas than the proverbial “drop in the bucket.”
Some Canadian papers have taken up the cry that Canadians (and especially Canadian women) are not wanted in England. During a stay of twenty months in England, ending last August, the writer neither heard nor read any word or hint of such a thing either from English people or in English papers One read with astonishment the articles which appeared in Canadian papers on this subject, and one felt that Canadians were being made rather ridiculous by this outcry over a matter of which English people were apparently unconscious, and on which English papers, so far as one could judge, were making no comment whatever. Mr. Lacey Amy says “The newspapers on both sides of the water have endeavored to interrupt the stream.” I would again ask for the name of any responsible English paper and the date of the issue in which such an endeavor was made, as it would be both interesting and instructive to read it.
While prices have gone up very much in England, they have also risen rapidly in Canada, and one finds on returning, that the cost of living is quite as high here as in England. While loaf sugar (but no other kind) was sometimes difficult to get, and eggs and butter were very dear (especially eggs), no scarcity of food was felt, and some foods (bacon, for instance) were cheaper than in Canada.
Mr. Lacey Amy’s estimate of Canadian women in England, and the work they are doing, is so obviously unfair and prejudiced that it should not carry weight with any fair-minded reader of “Saturday Night.” It can only arouse indignation in those who know of the quiet useful work which Is being done in hospitals, soldiers’ clubs and canteens and also for the Red Cross and Field Comforts, by numbers of Canadian women in England—women whose hearts are torn with anxiety, and who find their greatest comfort in doing what they can to help In every work for the comfort and well-being of the soldiers. If any impartial and fair-minded Canadian writer would take up the question of the work which is being done by Canadian women in England—investigating thoroughly and carefully, and reporting honestly and fairly—the story he could tell would be one to make Canadians proud of their women He could write of the Canadian Women’s Club of Folkestone, for instance—of their work on behalf of the tubercular patients at Moore Barracks Hospital; of the Connaught Club for soldiers, where all the cooking of good home-made Canadian dishes—sometimes for as many as a hundred soldiers in one day—is done by the women of the Canadian Club; of the comfortable rest and recreation room which they have furnished, and the free canteen which they are operating for the benefit of the soldiers passing through the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre at Folkestone—men just out of hospital who are in need of rest and comfort; of their devoted work in the many hospitals of the Shorncliffe area, and of their many activities for the benefit of the soldiers, of which time fails me to tell. He could speak of the valuable work done by Lady Drummond and her devoted hand of helpers in the Information Department of the Canadian Red Cross Society—of the help they give to anxious and bereaved Canadians gathering information for them, and of the unfailing kindness and sympathy with which (hat help Is given, to which the present writer desires to bear grateful personal testimony.
Mr. Lacey Amy has no word of praise or appreciation for any of these things. He is like a man walking by a mountain road, who has no eyes for the heights around him, but sees only the muddy spots on the path. He would judge all Canadian women by the actions of a few idle and foolish ones. He would also have us believe that Canadian soldiers are churlish and ungrateful, but the experience of the “average hospital visitor” has been that they are invariably courteous and friendly, and grateful for any little kindness, as well as brave and cheerful and patient in suffering.
If Mr. Lacey Amy’s article was written as the result of his personal experience, one can only conclude that he has been equally unfortunate in his choice of a boarding-house, in the soldiers he has met, and in the type of Canadian woman he has encountered, even “when tea-ing(!) at the home of one of England’s illustrious titled men!”
Yours truly.

Editor’s Note:—Mr. Amy, being in England, the Editor will endeavor to answer a number of Mrs. Grasett’s questions. First of all the “great London newspaper” spoken of is the “Daily News,” the date of which I am unable to give, though the clipping was in my hands in October and was referred to in the Front Page of this journal in the issue of October 14. I pass the subject of boarding houses as I have had no personal knowledge, but as Mr. Amy has been in England some two years or more he probably spoke by the book. As for the price of food products, eggs were quoted this week in London at ten cents each. This fact may be substantiated from press reports published in the New York “Times.” and New York “Post.” However, Mr. Walter Runciman’s speech in Parliament last week, in which he notified the public that there would be no more flour made from the pure grain; that more stringent measures would have to be taken in respect to the consumption of sugar; that the State control of potatoes was imminent, and finally that the Government might be compelled to put food tickets into force, is, I think, sufficient answer as to what position England is in with regard to food supplies. As to the reference to “one of the War Office’s frolics.” this Editor does not know the source of this remark (it came from one of the largest and most influential London dailies), but without Mr. Amy’s approval could scarcely make it public. As for Mr. Amy’s general information on matters in England, would state that he is a trained and experienced journalist with London newspaper connections.

Readers of the “Women’s Section” of Saturday Night are well aware that this journal has always attempted to do justice to the war work of Canadian women in England, not only through the page written by Miss Mary Macleod Moore, our special correspondent in London, but also by means of many minor reports of such endeavor. Mr. Amy does not doubt the extent and excellence of Canadian women’s work in England—he mere emphasizes what overseas authorities have already complained of—the presence in England of too many inadequately employed Canadian women.

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