This Famishing World

By Alfred W. McCann

Six: How "Business" Muzzles Truth

§ 75 -- "Unsound Flour" Even Though White

BEFORE dismissing white flour, it is necessary to refer to two other forms of flour against which the public needs protection.

One is called "unsound flour," the other "bleached flour."

Prior to August 19th, 1913, the authorities had never bothered about the question of unsound flour in the city of New York, although the New York Produce Exchange for years had maintained a department, the chief duty of which was to reject such flour, so that members of the exchange would be protected against the financial loss involved in purchasing an inferior or inedible flour.

The government had never made a seizure of such flour notwithstanding the enormous traffic in spoiled flour carried on.

Flour men suffered no worries concerning any possible official interference with the final disposition of the rejected product. It was easier to work off decomposed flour by mixing ten parts of the rotten product with ninety parts of sound flour, thereby avoiding waste through the medium of the public's stomach. This unsound flour was always sold at a ridiculous price, but the public always paid the regular market price for the finished breadstuff from which it was made.

Such was the situation August 19th, 1913, on which day, in order to bring the issue to a crisis, I arranged with Dr. William H. Allen, director of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, to have some of his men make an investigation with me of the grain piers of Jersey City.

Accordingly, Dr. W. H. Deaderick and J. H. Kirshman, of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, accompanied me on an inspection of the Lehigh Valley flour and grain piers. There we discovered 58,800 pounds of unsound, musty, and inedible flour packed in the regulation 196-pound cotton bags.

These bags are porous. All flour is shipped in them. Rats run over them. They are subject to many unspeakable forms of contamination in the freight yards. But that is still another matter relating not to nutrition but to sanitation.

The regulations of the New York Produce Exchange require flour to be marked "Sound" or "Unsound." None of this flour bore any mark indicating its true nature and no satisfactory explanation could be made by Flour Inspector W. J. Taylor, in charge of Piers I, G, and E, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Jersey City.

I notified the New York station of the bureau of chemistry, Department of Agriculture, of our findings. Federal Inspectors Lind and Ford were despatched to the scene. The government men were denied access to the flour by the railroad officials.

For a period of twenty-four hours they believed they could do nothing with the stuff which, in the meantime, had been rejected as "unsound" by Messrs. Hewer & Siney, of the New York Produce Exchange, and sold at a fraction more than a cent a pound to a blending plant on Staten Island.

The government's inspectors, in communication with Washington, were instructed by wire to make another effort to examine the flour. They returned to the pier the following day but, in the meantime, somebody had performed a mysterious ceremony over the decomposed stuff.

During the night the contents of the 196-pound bags were transferred to 140-pound bags. The manipulation was intended to rescue the rotten flour from the jurisdiction of the government officials.

It has been held in the trade and in more than one federal district court that the government's jurisdiction over any product, however rotten, comes to an end once that product has been removed from the original package in which it had been shipped into interstate commerce.

Dr. Carl Alsberg, chief of the Bureau of Chemistry, was immediately notified of the complexity of the situation, and, regardless of the legal aspect of the case, his efforts finally resulted in a seizure of the rotten flour on a libel issued by United States District Attorney Warren Davis, Trenton, N. J. The attachment was made by United States Deputy Marshal Beekman, Jersey City.

Prior to this seizure I had made numerous vain attempts to obtain action through the New York City Health Department, but the Health Department refused to concern itself with the unsoundness of the city's bread supply.

It is not generally known or even suspected that unsound flour is exceedingly common. They tell us whole wheat flour spoils. They do not refer to spoiled white flour.

§ 76 -- Bleached Flour

Most large cities and nearly all the small towns of the United States are deluged with bleached flours. Millers of the middle west are dumping low grade bleached products into bakeshops in carload lots. Scarcely a day passes in which the chief inspector of the New York Produce Exchange is not called upon to examine bleached flour. Even the housewife can detect this fraud if she so desires.

The baker who uses bleached flour knows what he is buying at a cheap price for the reason that the barrel in which it reaches him is labelled according to its contents, although he is not required by law to label his bread and cake in the same way.

The federal pure food label on bulk packages is intended only as an index of wholesale values for the benefit of the manufacturer or merchant. It does not follow the manipulated foodstuff into the hands of the consumer. Hence the consumer knows nothing of the vast system of fraud which ends when the bulk package is safely delivered to the cellar or subcellar of the food factory, or deposited in a public warehouse subject to the food factory's orders.

The test for bleached flour is a simple one and a rather pretty experiment. Take a handful of the suspected flour. Pat it into the form of a little mound or pyramid, placed on a marble slab or wooden table. With the thumb depress the top of the mound, thus forming a cup or well about the size of a thimble. Into this well pour a teaspoonful of a mixture purchasable at any wholesale drug store under the name of the Gries Hasway Reagent. This reagent is a mixture of equal parts of sulphanilic acid and alpha-naphthylamic. Both these substances can be purchased in any city drug store.

Let the reagent stand in the well in the mound of flour for from ten to twenty minutes. If the flour has been bleached the reagent will be coloured pink. If the flour has not been bleached there will be no discolouration.

Under the existing sanitary codes of most American cities there is a provision which enables the Health Department of most communities to proceed against the thousands of carloads of bleached flour which the middle western millers are now unloading upon the public.

The government, which has failed to prevent the bleaching of flour for interstate commerce, needs the aid of local health departments to help it in its efforts to stamp out this base and indefensible practice.

Flour is bleached to conceal inferiority by making it appear of better quality than it is. Most sanitary codes provide against the staining, colouring, coating or bleaching of any food product for the purpose of concealing inferiority. Under such provisions it becomes an easy matter for the corporation counsel of any American city to bring action against bleached flour.

Not satisfied with robbing the wheat of its most indispensable mineral elements, millers have still further debauched their industry by resorting to electrolytical chemistry in their efforts to fool the people.

That the flour and grain markets of the world are notoriously corrupt is not disputed by those on the inside of the situation. The extent to which this corruption is destined to be tolerated depends entirely upon the capacity of the people to understand its heinous nature and apply the remedy that lies at hand.

I do not insinuate that bleached flour is in itself any more responsible for any of the diseases of malnutrition than any other form of denatured flour, nor do I intimate that it constitutes more than a symptom of the confusion and chaos in which the United States permits its food standards to become legally entangled.

Bleached flour may have nothing to do with infant mortality. It does, however, have much to do with sham, fraud, make-believe, and as such it must be treated.

§ 77 -- The "Mixed Flour" Evil

It was known in the trade long before the outbreak of the Spanish War that millions of pounds of adulterated white flour were annually sold to bakers. It was the custom of the trade to cheapen the so-called patent flour manufactured by the millers of wheat by adding varying percentages of corn starch or rice starch or potato starch, all of which in bulk were purchasable before the war at a price at least one-third less than the price of wheat flour.

During the years from 1910 to 1915, for instance, wheat at the large centres ranged in price from 77 3/4 cents to $1.31 per bushel, the average price being about $1 per bushel.

During the same period the price of corn in the same markets ranged from 45 cents to 86 cents per bushel, the average price being 65 cents per bushel.

Congress, seeking new revenues during the Spanish War and knowing the trickery of the wholesale bakery supply houses, included in the Spanish War revenue act of 1898 a provision fixing a tax of 4 cents a barrel on "mixed flour," together with an occupation tax of $12 per annum and providing that the manufacture and sale of mixed flour shall be conducted under the control of the Department of Internal Revenue.

The Spanish War revenue measure did not concern itself about fraud or public health. It was a money-raising proposition. It was, however, an eloquent index of a situation, the very existence of which had never been suspected by the people.

Whether it was known or not, nearly all bakers before the Hoover regulations were issued requiring them to use wheat flour substitutes at three times their value, were producing five- and ten-cent loaves with the assistance of corn starch, rice starch, potato starch, or other water absorbing ingredients.

The manufacturers of corn starch or corn flours are themselves on record with the following statement:

"The philosophy of the present mixed flour law is that the mixing of wheat with other cereals or the products thereof is a vicious practice, but that upon the payment of certain taxes the miller who is sufficiently conscienceless to do so can make almost any sort of mixture.

"As a matter of detail it should be borne in mind that the wholesomeness of mixed flour is not at present protected by the law of 1898, but rather the more recent food and drugs act (1906). Consequently the removal of the taxing provision could by no stretch of the imagination have any effect whatever upon the important point of wholesomeness."

The manufacturers of corn starch declare that "technical research in this country and practical experience abroad have shown that the protein of wheat is sufficiently strong, easily to carry through the process of bread-making 20 percent added starch, be the source of that starch rice, potato or corn."

Let us examine the philosophy of the corn starch manufacturer who describes his product as "a yeast food flour." I have a signed statement in my possession, dated March 10, 1915, addressed to the bakers of the country by one of these corn products manufacturers. Because it tells just why corn starch is used and throws inside light upon the subject I quote it in full as follows:

This letter is characteristic of many others now in my possession. It reveals the real purpose for which corn starch is utilised by bakers in the systematic and ever-increasing effort to lower the food value of the staff of life in order that constantly increasing profits may be obtained.

§ 78 -- The Devitalized Five-Cent Loaf

The manner in which the staff of life can be manipulated at will for commercial purposes indicates the necessity of establishing an official definition of the word "bread," together with means of controlling its integrity.

In February and March, 1915, much interest was aroused concerning the use of "plaster of Paris" in the production of the bread made by one of the largest bakers in the United States.

Considerable light was shed upon the secret use of a mineral mixture in the making of bread in Boston, New York, and other American cities, when Referee Nussbaum, at the inquiry of New York State into an alleged conspiracy to increase the price of bread from five to six cents a loaf, on the ground that war prices made bread ingredients higher, probed into the secrets of wholesale bakers.

Prior to the taking of testimony in the bread case, at the office of Deputy Attorney-General Alfred L. Becker, 299 Broadway, New York City, Inspector James 0. Jordan of the Boston Board of Health made a report to Mayor Curley, in which he asserted that bakeries in New York and Massachusetts were making bread which contained calcium sulphate, otherwise known as gypsum or plaster of Paris, materials used in making plaster casts.

When questioned concerning the truth of Inspector Jordan's report the vice-president of one of the largest baking concerns of the world, admitted at the state's hearing that such a product was in use, that it had been employed for three years prior to the date of the state's investigation, and that it had been patented.

He justified its use on the ground that it enabled the baker to leaven his dough before excessive fermentation took place.

"Excessive fermentation," he said, "is destructive of practically all food values in the ingredients used in modern baking." He argued, therefore, that the only bread which retains any food value is the bread that contains this patented powder, for the reason that prior to its discovery all bakers' bread was worthless because of the destruction of practically all of its food value.

We have examined the evidence that shows white bread is not a bone-builder.

We have examined the evidence that proves pigeons fed on white bread suffer a loss of the lime salts of their bones even to the extent of perforation of the skull.

We know that Voit established this fact as long ago as 1882.

According to the report of the Boston Board of Health on the composition of this "plaster of Paris" powder the samples examined contained calcium sulphate, 24 parts; sodium chloride, 24.90 parts; ammonium chloride, 11.50 parts; starch, 30 parts.

The testimony taken before Referee Nussbaum placed on record the admission of one of the most prominent white bread bakers in the world that white bread is worthless bread, devoid of food value unless it contains a certain chemical compound manufactured under the direction and control of certain commercial corporations.

When the people are informed that the way to restore the food value of white bread is to add to it a compound of gypsum or plaster of Paris in amounts however small, all the indictments charged against the broken staff of life are unwittingly confirmed.

The highest of high prices paid for denatured bread means nothing to the well fed or to those in comfortable circumstances, but to the average American family, whose daily diet consists largely of bread, it means decay.

The poor and the rich together are consuming an inadequate substitute for wheat in the form of white flour food, but the poor, who need all the honest nourishment they can get, consume by far the greatest quantity of this foodless form of food.

In New York City the common people know that the European war early in 1915 was merely an excuse for advancing the price of bread to six cents. It was because they cried out against this advance that the attorney general of New York State interfered.

They know that it was due to his interference that the price was not only returned to five cents, but that one year later, February, 1916, when the raw materials from which bread is made were bringing even higher prices than when the six cent rate was arbitrarily fixed, one large concern in New York City sold the same bread made by the same people at four cents a loaf.

By its clamour the public had affected the price of bread while remaining in ignorance concerning its devitalised character. Growing children who eat bread three or four times a day are not concerned in an advance of one cent a loaf or in a reduction of one cent a loaf.

The bread inquiry of the attorney general of New York State, through the extraordinary admissions which it provoked on the part of the bakers themselves, shocked and for a time confounded the entire white flour industry of the United States.

§ 79 -- A Paid Advertisement

Immediately following the disclosures made by Inspector Jordan and Referee Nussbaum, the following newspaper advertisement appeared under this caption: "About Four Years Ago the Blank Baking Company Engaged Three Trained Men and Instructed Them to Devote Their Time in Search for a Method of Making Better Bread." This Resulted in the Greatest Discovery Ever Made in the History of the Bread Business and is a Great Boon for the Benefit of Humanity.

"In view of the inaccurate, misleading and really absurd newspaper statements that have been made regarding the methods employed by our company we wish first to state a fact within the knowledge of every housewife, that yeast is a living organism and in order to live and multiply, and thereby leaven the dough, the yeast must have food.

"In the old process this food was the flour, sugar, and other constituents of the dough. The yeast consumed a certain portion of these materials and converted them into alcohol and other products, including a certain gas which raised the bread and made it light.

"Under the new discovery, however, minute amounts of certain salts are added which serve in place of a part of this food which, under the old method, the yeast consumes.

"In the old process a portion of the flour, particularly the glutenous part, was broken down by the yeast and thus valuable nutritive properties were lost.

"By the new process this does not take place, but, on the contrary, a greater percentage of the natural gluten of the wheat is retained in the baked loaf.

"In order that exact minute quantities might be properly introduced, first into the water and then into the dough, these salts were made up into a powder.

"Of this powder a very minute amount is added to the 1,500 pounds of material -- flour, sugar, milk, vegetable oil, yeast, salt and water -- which constitutes a standard size dough in our bakeries.

"The result is that there is left in the bread four one-hundredths of 1 percent of calcium salts which are the identical salts contained in all natural waters and practically all vegetable and animal products.

"On a percentage basis fresh milk contains more than four times as much natural calcium salts as if contained in the form of the artificial calcium salts put into Blank's bread.

"In other words, one glass of milk contains as much natural calcium salts as two loaves of Blank's bread contains of artificial calcium salts. Cheese contains about thirty times as much, peas contain about three times as much, greens twelve times as much, beans five times as much, chocolate three times as much, turnips twice as much."

The advertisement drew no contrast between the organic calcium compounds found in natural foods and the laboratory product introduced in the bread referred to. It confined its assertions to the claim that the calcium thus introduced made bread better, but it said nothing of the natural organic compounds of iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, fluorine, etc., which the yeast powder did not restore to the white bread described as "a great boon for the benefit of humanity."

The advertisement went on:

"Medical men have shown that a normal adult drinks in twenty-four hours three and a half quarts of water. A twenty-four hour supply of many natural waters would contain as much calcium sulphate as is found in ten loaves of Blank's bread.

"The above citations are sufficient to show that the salts are present in such small amounts that no question can arise in any one's mind not antagonistic to the real facts that they are not used for any purpose of adulteration or deception.

"Some of the reasons for their use are as follows:

"In the leavening of bread the yeast, besides forming the gas, carbon dioxide, which makes the bread light, also forms alcohol and certain by-products which in the similar process of fermentation of grains to form whiskey we call 'fusel oil.'

"This fusel oil is a very poisonous and rather disagreeable smelling oil. This action takes place whenever bread is raised by yeast whether in the household or in the bakery.

"The amount of fusel oil and certain other disagreeable acid products thus formed is very small, but has its effect upon the bread and certainly does not make the bread any more wholesome.

"In the new process the amount of these fusel oil products is diminished almost to the vanishing point. The result is a bread with better taste, odor, color, texture, and flavor, and a more wholesome bread because of the absence in this process of these small amounts of objectionable products."

These statements really mean that the many millions of loaves of bread baked by the Blank bakery prior to the discovery of its yeast food powder contained the very poisonous and rather disagreeable smelling fusel oil and certain other disagreeable acid products which develop in all bread in which the Blank yeast powder is not used.

§ 80 -- "The Lid is Off"

The advertisement of the Blank bakery, published apparently for the purpose of neutralising the published report of Inspector Jordan and the facts disclosed by Referee Nussbaum continued as follows:

This advertisement did not inform the public that the standard bushel of sixty pounds of wheat produces fifty-nine pounds of whole wheat meal, one pound being lost in the form of moisture through evaporation in the grinding, and that the same bushel of wheat produces but forty-five pounds of white flour, showing a loss of fifteen pounds of the most vital elements of the wheat, including more than 75 percent of its total mineral content -- a loss not made up in the baking of white bread by the use of any patented powder.

It did not inform the public that every barrel of white flour represents a loss of sixty-five pounds of the most precious elements of the wheat -- elements which are thrown to the hogs and which are not restored to white bread by the addition of any patented powder.

§ 81 -- Imitation Graham

Following are the standard bakery ingredients of white bread and whole wheat bread at pre-war prices:

196 pounds white flour
124 pounds water
4-1/4 pounds salt
2 pounds sugar
2 pounds yeast
8 pounds compound

This mixture represents a total cost of $5.06, which produces 180 loaves to retail at 10 cents each, or 360 loaves to retail at five cents each.

The ten-cent loaves when scaled off before baking weigh thirty ounces. During the baking process they lose three ounces by evaporation, coming out of the oven weighing approximately twenty-seven ounces.

The five-cent loaves when scaled off before baking weigh fifteen ounces. When they come out of the oven they weigh between thirteen and thirteen and one-half ounces.

The gross profit to the baker with flour at $4 a barrel is the difference between $18, the selling price of 180 loaves at ten cents a loaf, and $5.06, the actual cost, or $12.94.

One large baker, with whom I am familiar, paid in January, 1916, $5.50 a barrel for his white flour. At this price his gross profits on each barrel of flour was $11.44 on an investment of $6.56, including cost of sugar, salt, compound and yeast.

There are many miserable substitutes for honest whole wheat bread which masquerade under a whole wheat label. They are soft, soggy, brown, and, one would say, if it were not for their poor flavour, almost tasteless. Certainly such loaves of so-called whole wheat bread can never inspire adult or child to an appetite for more.

Such bread discourages bread reform. Nevertheless there is on the market, in addition to a few genuine whole wheat loaves, a near approach to whole wheat which is made according to the following formula:

This quantity of raw material produces 289 loaves, which retail at ten cents each. These loaves are scaled off to weigh 24 1/2 ounces. Losing 2 1/ 2 ounces in the oven by evaporation, they weigh a scant 22 ounces after baking.

The significant feature of these figures to the bread consumer lies in the fact that it costs $1 a barrel less to manufacture a whole wheat meal than it does to manufacture white patent flour, and yet the millers of whole wheat meal charge the baker $1 more for their products than they do for patent flour, making an arbitrary difference of $2 in favour of their own pocketbook.

In other words, they obtain $2 a barrel more for a product which costs $1 less.

When bakers take the stand and admit under oath that white bread is foolish bread, without food value, they render a service to the community, but when they say that the way to restore the food value of white bread is to load it up with plaster of Paris or gypsum, or any other form of patented powder, they deceive themselves, they deceive their bread, and they deceive those who eat it.

Next: 82. Physicians Seek in Vain

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