Practical Food Economy
( Originally Published 1921 )
The general plan of diet advocated through-out this book is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. But it is cheaper than the conventional diet usually eaten in the American home, because it eliminates the almost universal habit of over-eating, and because it eliminates the bulk of the expenditurc for meat, which is usually the most expensive item in the American bill of fare.
I do not, however, advocate extreme measures in food economy; outside of the emergencies of war and famine, the attempt to cut the cost of food down to the very minimum is both unnecessary and unwise. The cheapest foods used by man are the grains, an the cheapest gram in this country is corn but a diet in which grain products and especially commercial corn-meal and white flour predomiriate is decidedly deficient and will not maintain life and health. Some of the poorer families in the South live largely on commercial corn-meal, white flour, fat pork and molasses. The result is a weak and badly nourished race on which the terrible pellagra inflicts such havoc.
If the cereal foods be used in the form of entire grains, particularly in the case of wheat, their dietetic deficiencies are partly (not wholly) over-come. Even in the most wholesome and appetizing form cereals neither supply all elements of nutrition, nor are they sufficiently palatable to recommend their use to the exclusion of other food.
The least expensive and most effective way to overcome the deficiencies of cereal foods is by the addition of milk and leafy vegetables.
This combination, therefore, makes the cheapest safe diet 'known. In country districts where whole-wheat, milk and green vegetables may all be had at comparatively low prices, a man can live on such a diet and be adequately nourished at the cost of a few cents a day. All diets attempting to cut the cost of food to a minimum should include these three ingredients. The Whole Wheat, of course, may be used in both the cereal and the bread form; corn products may be substituted for the wheat in part or in whole, if the diet is sufficiently fortified with the milk and greens.
In addition to the above three groups of food the appetite will crave some form of fat, and also sweet. The most economical way to secure these would be in the form of vegetable oil and sugar here again we may say that if plenty of whole milk and leafy vegetables are used the deficiencies of such oil and sugar may be overcome. The safer plan, however, and certainly a more desirable one from the standpoint of palatability and variety would be to use a portion of natural sweet fruits, and some genuine dairy butter.
For the purposes of illustrating how these principles of food economy work out, I will give below three menus, figuring these three degrees of simplicity and showing the comparative cost of each. Of course, all prices of foods are subject to change without notice, and the reader interested in the subject will have to re-figure the cost according to the price list he would have to pay.
THE LOWEST COST MENUS
Of course, the preceding menus are doubtless too monotonous and unpalatable to the average individual for practical, or at least permanent use. The following menu, with ingenuity of cooking and serving of ingredients, would about be at the bed-rock of practical economy for universal use.
Six ounces of Whole Wheat $.02
The above menus are given to illustrate the basic principle by which food economy must be achieved rather than as practical menus of real use. The food quantities given in each case approximate 2,500 calories and hence furnish enough fuel food for the average man. But there will be very few readers of this book who will see fit to attempt such extreme economies in the diet.
The addition of greater variety to the diet will naturally enhance the cost. A moderate amount of such variety and such increased cost is usually worth while to all who can afford it. Palatability, the pleasure of eating, is worth paying for to a moderate degree. It is only when this catering to the appetite results in excessive expense, and particularly when the extra expense adds no true improvement to the diet, that it is to be condemned.
All readers who read the previous chapters of this book will be fully impressed with the fact that the quantity of fuel value, which the scientists measure in calories, does not tell all we need to know about food. Yet since the fuel value is one element that must be considered, and because it is the only element that can be easily reduced to a numerical figure, this quantity of fuel or caloric value is usually taken as the basis in figuring food economy.
Such figures are interesting and instructive, and are of some practical value to those who comprehend that the fuel value of food is only one element of food quality and that other factors must also be considered. I do not expect any reader to compute the number of calories in his daily dietósuch a mathematical calculation is too troublesomeóbut there are practical daily questions that every one interested in daily food economy must answer. For illustration: Are eggs at fifty cents a dozen more economical than milk at sixteen cents a quart? Are potatoes at four cents a pound cheaper than bread at ten cents a pound? Are raisins at fifteen cents a pound more expensive than grapes at five cents a pound?
In order to enable the reader to answer such questions I have devised a table which will show the comparative worth of various foods at various prices. At the left hand side: of this table you will find the more important foods listed. These foods are grouped according to their caloric value, which, of course, has nothing to do with the natural food groups that we have elsewhere discussed as the basis of planning; a complete or balanced menu. Across the top of this table you will find, given in bold type, figures which indicate various prices of these foods per pound. In the case of eggs, only, these prices apply per dozen. In the case of milk, the price should be considered per pint, which, of course, is approximately a pound.
The figures in the body of this table represent the cost of 2,500 calories, providing the price per pound be that given at the head of the column. I chose the unit of 2,500 calories as that approximates the fuel value required by the average man for one day. This enables you to think of these figures as meaning what it would cost a man to live per day if he ate only the food under consideration. Certainly I am not advising any one to live on a single food even for a single day, but the idea of the cost of food per day is a term that has some practical significance, while the phrase 2,500 calories sounds purely scientific and theoretical.
Now to apply our table. Suppose we wish to answer the question suggested above; eggs are fifty cents a dozen, milk is sixteen cents a quart; we want to know whether we can afford to substitute eggs for a portion of our milk. We look at the word "eggs" and trace the horizontal until we come to a column headed "50." ; here we find the figure "1.25," which is the cost of 2,500 calories of eggs at fifty cents, or what it would cost a man to live a day on an exclusive egg diet. We now find "fresh wholc milk;" sixteen cents a quart will be eight cents a pint or pound; we therefore look in the column headed "8" and find the cost of 2,500 calories of milk will be sixty cents, which would be the daily cost of living for a man on milk diet.
Now take the example of bread versus potatoes; by consulting our table we will find that for bread at ten cents a pound loaf, the cost will be 21 cents a day, whereas potatoes at four cents a pound will cost 24 cents a day. Potatoes at four cents a pound are not, therefore, an economy, compared with bread at ten cents; but sup-pose potatoes came down to two cents a pound and bread to eight cents; we now find the comparative cost to be 17 cents for bread and 12 cents for potatoes.
This table of comparative food values will, I believe, be very helpful in showing you the comparative worth of different foods at different prices. You will probably find, by running through the table with a number of foods you use, that you have entertained some false ideas as to what foods are most economical. The figures of the table are only approximate, being computed to the nearest whole number, but it is amply accurate for all practical purposes.
I can not caution you too strongly against considering this matter of food economy as the entire or even the principal fact about foods that needs your attention. Much harm has been wrought by the over emphasizing of the caloric value of foods. For illustration: To substitute cereals for milk in the feeding of children because cereals furnish calories at a cheap rate, is a crime too obvious to need explanation. Again the white flour millers have repeatedly defended their product because of its high caloric value and apparent economy. It is just as sensible to tell a man to run his automobile on kerosene because he can buy more calories per gallon in kerosene than he can in gasoline. But even this illustration is not forcible enough, for engineers may yet devise an automobile engine that will run bet-ter on kerosene than it will on gasoline, but the chemist of the white flour millers will never be able to devise a man who will run better on de-natured white bread than he will on the whole wheat product.
Among the most common errors in food economy made by the American housewife are the over use of meats, the over-use of canned goods, and the attempt to use fresh fruits and vegetables out of their natural seasons.
Fat meats are cheap when considered on a basis of calories, and they are utterly worthless on any other basisóbut cheap as they are, fat meats and animal fats are never as cheap as the more wholesome vegetable oils. The various oils and cooking fats made from either cotton-seed oil or cocoanuts are the most economical of all fats. The use of such fats is to be recommended for economy, provided they do not crowd out all true milk or butter fat from the diet.
Lean meats are never a cheap source of food from any standpoint whatever. Lean beef, even at thirty cents a pound, considered for its fuel value, is fifty percent more expensive than milk at sixteen cents a quart; but fuel value is the least important thing to consider in the comparison of meat with milk; and from every other standpoint the meat is inferior for most people.
The use of canned goods is extravagant merely because of the expense of this method of preservation. The cans often cost more than the food that is put into them. The canned goods habit is one that the housewife falls into because it saves her time and labor, but the canned food diet is inferior to one of fresh fruits and vegetables, or in many cases to dried fruits and vegetables. I certainly hope to see an increased development of scientific drying or desiccating as a means of pre-serving food to replace the present over-development of our canned industry. The extravagance of canned goods is seen at its worst in the case of pickles, preserves and tit-bits of various sorts, which are put up in fancy small tins or bottles and sold at perfectly ridiculous prices.
While I dislike to say anything that will discourage the use of fresh fruits and vegetables, yet it certainly is not economical to attempt to use these products when nature does not produce them except under hot house cultivation. There are too many wholesome foods of these groups that can be had, either fresh or cheaply preserved, at any season of the year, to excuse the use of December strawberries or similar extravagances, merely to out-do one's neighbor, or because they have been given in some menu one is trying to follow. This argument also applies with considerable force to the use of eggs; this excellent food is usually reasonable in cost in the spring and summer, but unreasonable in cost, except for the inferior storage grade, in fall and winter.