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The Journeys Of Foods

( Originally Published 1917 )



From producer to consumer. There is scarcely any chapter in the history of foods more fascinating than an account of their travels. Probably the most graphic way of showing you the wonders of carrying foods is to take you on a "food journey." Only a little experience in following foods from their source to the consumer is necessary to prove it an interesting game, one abounding in surprises.

From tea garden to tea table. First let us follow a shipment of tea from the tea gardens to the tea table. While we are doing this, we shall see through how many hands this tea passes on its long journey. This will also give us a good idea of the great amount of work involved in preparing a cup of tea for us.

The Ceylon natives who pick and carry tea in large baskets to the curing stations are the first people to handle it. After the tea is cured it is put into chests or boxes and carried in oxcarts to the railway station, whence it is borne by train to Colombo. Here it is again handled by other natives and placed in a warehouse, where it remains until a foreign buyer purchases it. More than likely this buyer will be an Englishman who will first carefully test the tea.

Next it is hauled to the dock and loaded into small boats with the aid of a hand derrick. Then by means of a steam winch, it is lifted from the small boats or "lighters" and lowered into the hold of a steamship. In this stage of its journey it is handled by sailors who have shipped under the English flag.

In all probability, this steamer is built with especial reference to the needs of the tea trade, its hold being divided into many small rooms or compartments in which the tea is stored. This arrangement reduces the breakage of chests and the damage from other causes.

The steamship now carries the tea to Liverpool, England, where it is unloaded by the sailors and English stevedores or dock laborers. The tea is next inspected by an English government inspector, then hauled by motor truck or wagon to a large warehouse, where it is again handled by English laborers.

The tea remains in this warehouse until sold. Perhaps an American importer inspects the shipment and buys a hundred chests of it. Then this special lot of Ceylon tea is again hauled by motor truck or wagon to the dock, loaded aboard a large steamer, and carried swiftly across the Atlantic Ocean. At New York, American dock workers unload it and it is transferred by a motor truck to . a bonded ware-house. A bonded warehouse is a building belonging to the United States government, where merchandise subject to a federal revenue tax is kept until it is found to comply with our laws regulating its admittance, and the tax paid. After the tea has been tested by the government tea inspector, it is transferred to the building of the American importer. There an electric elevator carries it to an upper floor, where it is probably packed in small boxes or tins and labeled by American girls. It is then placed in the storerooms until sold to retailers.

A portion of the tea is sold to an out-of-town customer. The shipment is sent down to the basement, loaded on tiny freight cars, and carried underground by an electric engine to the freight depot of the railway which is to deliver it to the country customer. There it is shifted by freight handlers into a box car of mixed merchandise. The freight train of which this car is a part is hauled by a big steam locomotive to the town to which the tea is shipped. Here it is unloaded by the train men and left in the freight depot until called for by the truck man serving the grocery store that has purchased it. This delivery man carries it in his wagon to the retail grocery store, where the grocer or one of his clerks unpacks it and places it on his shelves.

The tea has one more trip to make—a journey in the grocer's delivery wagon or motor to the home of the consumer. Of course the consumer buys only a small quantity of tea at one time, probably a one-pound can. Let us suppose that on the after-noon when the tea is delivered, the housewife has callers and asks them to have tea with her. If she has a tea wagon there is still another ride, although a short one, for the fragrant leaves from the far Orient—a trip on the dainty tea wagon from the kitchen into the room where the guests are waiting.

So we find that, from the first journey the tea makes, in the big basket on the back of the Ceylon native, until it is served by the maid from the tea wagon, it is handled by many people and is carried in many vehicles. If you try in this way to trace from its source every food served on your table, you will soon learn what interesting travelers are the foods which come from the remote regions of the earth to your kitchen. You will also learn how large a part of the world's greatest systems of transportation is devoted to the carrying of foods.

Carrying food in the United States. The quantity of food material carried by the railroads of the United States is so vast that it staggers the imagination. In a single year more than 116,084,000 tons of foodstuffs were hauled over the railways of this country. Of this startling total more than 52,000,-000 tons were grain. Of animal products almost 30,000,000 tons were transported by rail. This mighty burden may be separated into four classes: 15,000,000 tons of live stock, 2,500,000 tons of dressed meats, 2,500,000 tons of other packing-house products, and 9,000,000 tons of poultry, eggs, milk, fish, and game. In the same year our railroads carried more than 17,000,000 tons of fruits and vegetables and 9,000,000 tons of flour.

If you wish to get a better understanding of the great task of carrying food, take your pencil and reduce these tons to pounds. But you must not forget that a considerable amount of the foodstuffs used or produced in this country are not shipped by rail at all, but carried by wagon, by truck, and by boat.

Care in shipping foods. In railway and steam-ship advertisements we are constantly reminded of the comforts of travel provided for passengers. Few, however, realize that foods receive almost as good care as people in modern transportation. For example, many kinds of foods are shipped from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast in specially made express cars which are attached to passenger trains and run on fast-time schedules. The cost of building one of the "passenger express refrigerator" cars is officially stated to be not far from forty-five hundred dollars. The California shipper who fills one of these cars with butter and ships it to New York or Philadelphia does so at an express charge of about one thousand dollars. Butter, however, is an especially heavy food and therefore expensive to ship. The cost of shipping a car of this type filled with fruits or vegetables from the Pacific to the Atlantic usually runs from six hundred to eight hundred dollars for the trip by this fast service. Table grapes, cantaloupes, cherries, asparagus, and many vegetables are thus sent by the carload across the continent when they could not be successfully carried so long a distance under ordinary transportation conditions.

Special cars for special foods. Almost every food has peculiarities which must be carefully provided for by those undertaking to transport it a long distance and deliver it at the end of the journey in good condition. Of many foods it may be said that if the temperature is too low they frost; if too high, they sweat. These extremes are carefully guarded against. Some fruits are more successfully carried when cooled by ventilation than by refrigeration. This is especially true of the more delicate berries.

The most important types of special food cars are those made for carrying fresh beef, cured meats, fruits and vegetables requiring ventilation, fruits and vegetables demanding refrigeration, bananas, fish and oysters, pickles, potatoes, dairy products, mineral waters, maize products, cottonseed oil, molasses, cattle, hogs and sheep, live poultry. Big shippers have found it profitable to develop a distinct type of car for every food named in this list.

The banana and mineral water cars are especially frost proof; the fresh-meat car has racks for hanging halves of beef; the cars for pickles, maize products, cottonseed oil, and molasses are tank cars. In a word, each car named has some distinct feature which especially fits it for the safe transportation of some special kind of food product.

Taking care of small shipments. This work of perfecting the means of carrying foods to the highest point of efficiency does not stop with the building of special freight and express cars. Not all food shipments can be made in full car lots. This means that many devices have been invented to take care of small shipments. For instance, there is the "pony refrigerator" for the carrying of delicate fruits in ordinary express cars. This is lined with zinc and is much like a .large house refrigerator. The earliest California cherries, for example, are quite generally shipped to the Atlantic seaboard in these cars.

One of the simplest but most useful devices for the carrying of highly perishable foods in small quantities, thus far developed, is a patent box, made in many sizes, the especial feature of which is a shallow tray of cheap tin, which fits into the top of the box after the foodstuff has been packed. This tray has a drain spout which runs outside to carry off the water from the ice with which the tray is filled. When the box has reached its destination the tray is thrown away.

Preparing vegetables. for shipment. .Spinach, from California and Texas, affords a good example of the special preparation which many foods require before being sent on a long journey. When they. come in from the fields, the loads of spinach look like heaps of wilted weeds. They are given a bath in tanks of ice-cold water. . This not only loosens the dirt, which settles to the bottom of the tank, but it revives the plants to the point of crispness. Then the greens are packed in hampers with a small piece of ice in the center and chipped ice on the top. Finally, the hampers are placed in ventilator cars and the spinach seldom fails to arrive in a tempting condition.

Almost every dining table has some food on it which has required special treatment or special carrying provision that it might make its journey from the place of its origin in a tempting and acceptable condition. Perhaps no better example of this can be cited than the banana.

Shipping bananas. In Costa Rica, between Vera Cruz and Colon, is Puerto Limon, the capital of what might well be called the Banana Kingdom. From here about fourteen million bunches of bananas are shipped every year, going to all parts of the civilized world. All the bananas are cut or selected according to the length and character of the journey which they must make. In other words, it will not do for any bananas in a shipment to become over-ripe before their destination is reached, because one bad bunch will spoil hundreds of others in the cargo.

One banana ship carries fifty thousand bunches of bananas in its hold. They are loaded by means of mechanical conveyors and are received into rooms already cooled to the right temperature by a system of refrigeration pipes and large centrifugal fans. This system keeps the cargo both cool and dry.

"Banana messengers." When the fruit steamer reaches its port the bananas are quickly transferred to cars properly refrigerated, or, perhaps, to cold storage rooms in a great fruit warehouse. A man is sent with every banana train to see that the bananas are kept in the best possible condition until delivered into the hands of the customers of the fruit company. These "banana messengers" must inspect the cars at division points, record the temperature, and take the proper measures to cope with weather conditions in the territory through which the cars must travel. These cars are made so that they may be heated as quickly as cooled. At certain points they are, inspected by resident "banana messengers" who check the work done by the men sent with the train. The United States receives each year, by this remarkable method of transportation, almost fifty million bunches of bananas. Whenever you see a bunch of bananas you can scarcely forget its wonderfully interesting journey from Central America to the cellar of the dealer in "the States "— a trip which has been personally conducted with as much •care as if the bunch of bananas had been one of a number of human passengers.

Fish shipped alive. The lakes and rivers of Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa abound in fish which are , carried alive from their native waters and delivered to the cities of the East as lively and squirming as when they were first caught. While they are by no means the choicest kinds of fish, being mainly buffalo and carp, they are a boon to the people who buy them because they are sold at a cheap price and delivered in prime condition. The cars in which these fish are carried alive are furnished with large tanks through which run small pipes pierced with many tiny holes. Jets of air are constantly forced through these holes by means of an electrical air pump. By this device, it is possible to carry many fish in a tank and keep them in a good, lively condition to the end of the journey.

Old and new ways of distributing fish. In continental Europe fast fish trains distribute this food throughout that country in a most systematic and economical way, very unlike the way fish were delivered in Austria a quarter of a century ago. At that time enormous tanks of water containing fish were hauled by from four to eight horses from Russia to Austria. Thousands of these fish were thus delivered alive to the various towns and sold in the public markets. As these towns were about fifteen miles apart, to take the fish from one town to another meant an all-day journey. By this expensive method, fish naturally became a luxury instead of the poor man's food as it is to-day.

Primitive methods of carrying food. The means by which foods are carried in countries where primitive conditions still exist .are as interesting as they are varied and picturesque. The most primitive of all methods of transportation is the carrying of burdens by human beings. In nearly every country or region which might be classed as barbarous or semi-civilized, a distinct method of human burden bearing has been developed. In Jamaica, for instance, market day finds long processions of women going to town with baskets loaded with vegetables and fruits nicely poised on their heads. This is really the characteristic way in which foods make their first journeys in all parts of the torrid zone.

Many ingenious things have been devised by man to enable him to carry greater burdens. Many laborers among Old World peoples use various forms of what the pioneer American farmer called the "neckyoke." This is a pole from each end of which a burden may be suspended. In Java, for instance, the natives carry rice to market by means of shoulder poles of the simplest kind.

Journeying by water. Naturally water transportation is the most popular and the cheapest wherever it can be used, because it involves the least outlay of effort or power for the size of the burden carried. Rafts, canoes, boats, and ferries of many kinds are used for the forwarding of foods. But the most novel food craft that ever rode the waters is the coconut raft, which looks like a huge circular mat made of. unhusked nuts.

Pack animals as carriers. Where animal power is employed to transport foods, the "pack" is the most primitive form of placing the burden. The principal pack animals are the mule, the burro, the horse, the camel, and the llama of the Andes. All these animals are extensively used to "pack" foods to and from remote and inaccessible points. The camel is the "ship of the desert" for the warmer parts of the Old World countries of Asia and Africa. In America the mule is the great mountain climber. The donkey is the almost universal burden bearer in the Old World and the New, and the pack horse is almost as common and as widely distributed.

If these animals did not carry food to miners, settlers, and others of the "advance guard of civilization," a large part of the world's pioneering would be impossible. If they did not bring foods from out-of-the-way places, many of our most pleasing foods would be much scarcer than they are now.

Journeying by cart and sled. The two-wheeled cart is probably the most typical vehicle for carrying foods in the old-fashioned way. The style of the cart varies with the place or region of its origin. The very simplest type of cart is that used in the Philippines for hauling rice. The wheels are solid discs of wood and the "box" merely a rough platform.

The next stage in the development of the cart is typified by the wheat carts of Nairobi, British East Africa, drawn by the quaint humpbacked oxen of that region. The wheels are of wood, being heavy rims held in place by four crude spokes or cross braces. This vehicle has a somewhat elaborate box.

Dogs harnessed to carts haul much of the food in the Old World. In the Far North the sled is the common means of conveying food. In Lapland the sled is drawn by reindeer, in Alaska by dogs, and in Siberia or Iceland by hardy little ponies.

Motor truck and automobile. The motor truck and the automobile trailer are the latest and most improved means of food transportation. These modern carriers have almost revolutionized the bringing of foods from the field to the near-by markets. If we were suddenly deprived of them we should be made to feel their importance far more than we do now.



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