Monday, April 19, 2010

bonus features: it's mainly because of the meat and more (1)

Before reading this post, check out the related article on Torontoist.

Vintage Ad #1,089: Dominion's 6th Anniversary Sale, 1925
(larger version)

I plowed through loads of material in preparing this week's Historicist column about Dominion Stores, which was in danger of turning into a 176-page book without pruning. There's so much material on the cutting room floor that there will more "bonus feature" follow-ups than usual—think overstuffed four-or-five DVD version of a movie.

Today's post zeroes in on the celebrations for the chain's sixth anniversary in 1925. Besides the ad above, the September 18, 1925 edition of The Globe carried two pages of food-related articles and congratulatory ads from Dominion's suppliers under a celebratory banner. Among the featured stories:

“Groceries at Lower Prices Are Sold at Dominion Stores Because of Large Purchases”
The longest article explains how Dominion uses its ability to buy in bulk to deliver lower prices (even if, as a government commission discovered a decade later, loyal customers were occasionally shortchanged in the weight department). The introduction ponders why customers don’t bother to ask how the grocer manages to cut great deals:

How on earth do the Dominion stores sell such high-quality goods at such low prices? is the question ever uppermost in the minds of those who purchase at these red-fronted shops. It is a good question that, “How do they do it?” But such is the reserve of the Canadian housewife that few store managers have ever heard it put into words. The housewife knows the bargains she gets in these stores; in fact, those bargains are the prompters of her curiosity; but when it comes to asking why, she is reluctant. Perhaps it is her canny, bargaining instinct that checks inquiry, for it has long been an axiom among buyers the world over that low prices should be taken without question.

Once asked, that question would require a lengthy answer in relation to the Dominion stores. The reply might easily be described as a story—a story tinged with that certain human interest which writers have long ago called “the romance of big business.” The picture that is immediately formed in the public mind is a number of spruce-looking middle-aged men conferring about a long shiny table. and younger clerks bustling in and out with sheafs of papers. Compared to such a picture, the average red-fronted Dominion grocery store would seem a humble place. So it is; but has any purchaser ever failed to notice the quiet, orderly efficiency of each store’s staff? That is the characteristic which identifies that store as a link in the chain, and the chain is the big business.
From romantic notions of "spruce-looking" gentlemen, the article hammers home how buying in bulk from manufacturers saves money (short answer: customers know that a ten-cent item is often sold at a rate of three for a quarter, so it makes sense for buyers to think the same way when purchasing stock). The piece also assures customers that seventeen regional supervisors are looking out for their best interests in terms of store operations.

“Should Be Careful of School Lunches”
Or, as the sub-headline notes, “children are better without fancy cake and bologna sandwiches.” This article aims to educate parents in how to provide their young’uns with a healthier lunch, as long as the meal is always accompanied by a bottle of milk (there’s no indication if any dairies were consulted for the piece). The main weakness of the typical school lunch is its emphasis on sweet sandwiches:

No child can live and thrive by bread alone. While he is small he will likely enjoy the bread and ham combination, or bread and butter and brown sugar, because the small child has a natural healthy craving for sweets, but with this he should have sandwiches filled with chopped meat or egg or grated cheese or mashed beans, or peanut butter, or fish, or a paste of cooked dates or figs.
The last suggestion doesn't quite solve the problem of overly-sweet sandwiches, as I visualize a pseudo-fig newton in the kid's lunchbucket. Also note the child is referred to as "he"—a case of a preferred pronoun choice, or was it OK for schoolgirls to continue enjoying cake, bologna or sugary dainty treats?

Other ideas for lunch box fillers:

He could have oatmeal cookies or graham biscuits, with raisins in them or raisin brown bread, and all the butter he can eat, but he is better without fancy cake or soaked pie, or sandwiches of bologna or onions, or bread saturated with stewed fruit. A bacon sandwich is both appetizing and wholesome. Fruit turnovers and little meat pies are always inviting. Celery or raw fruit should be included as a tonic with every school lunch, and if your child is so well nourished that you can trust him to leave a piece of homemade candy or maple sugar until lunch hour and then eat it after the regular meal., the treat is not an indulgence, but the satisfying of the natural sugar hunger.
I doubt many parents in 2010 would deem a bacon sandwich a wholesome, healthy lunch stuffer, though it might be an improvement over a pack of Lunchables. It should be noted that the neighbouring column contains recipes for jelly and sponge cake, which dims the impact of promoting a healthier lunch.

“Meat Substitutes Quite Plentiful and Good to Taste”
This piece isn’t a paean to vegetarianism; it's a listing of alternatives to the evening cut of carcass. The focus is on fish (“good brain food”), beans (“the poor man’s meat”) and nuts (best used in salads). Key point: "the outstanding thing about the vegetable meat substitutes, nuts and the legumes, beans, peas and lentils, is that they not only contain a fair amount of protein, but a high percentage of starch as well." - JB

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