GENERAL ARTICLES

Not Enough To Eat!

Even with meat rationing Canadians will be the bestfed people in the world— And others must starve

BLAIR FRASER August 15 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Not Enough To Eat!

Even with meat rationing Canadians will be the bestfed people in the world— And others must starve

BLAIR FRASER August 15 1945

Not Enough To Eat!

Even with meat rationing Canadians will be the bestfed people in the world— And others must starve

GENERAL ARTICLES

BLAIR FRASER

Maclean’s Ottawa Editor

NOT LONG ago a Belgian mission came to Ottawa, wanting to buy, of all things, duck eggs. When they heard we had no duck eggs they said, “What have you got? We’ll buy anything you have and pay cash for it—anything to eat.”

Canadian officials could sell them some wheat. Then there was the 10,000 tons of horse meat they’d bought already, for delivery as soon as the new Saskatchewan canning plant is ready. Beyond that nobody here could tell them anything but “We’ve no more to spare. We’re exporting our whole surplus, through the Combined Food Board, already.”

But it was an embarrassing task to talk about “exporting our whole surplus”—a blushful thing to say to people just out from Europe, who could look around and see what plenty we have in Canada.

Canadians are the best-fed people in the world today. Even the Americans are hardly an exception any more, although broadly speaking we’re about the same. Barring sugar, which is out of our control, Canadians are eating more of every kind of food than we ever ate before. Last year we ate 20 pounds more meat apiece than in 1935-39—139 pounds instead of 119. Rationing will bring us down to a rate of only 10 pounds more than our pre-war standard. We’re eating also more poultry, fish and eggs, more butter and other fats, half as much again of oranges and other citrus fruits.

In Europe food rations today are at a level of slow starvation. Absolute minimum for a human being to maintain health is 2,000 calories a day. Nobody in western Europe is getting that much, except farmers who grow their own food and millionaires who can pay $60 for a black market meal.

Through winter and spring France averaged anywhere from 1,200 to 1,800 calories a day at different times. UNRRA has finally worked Greece and Yugoslavia up from famine to about 1,700 calories. Liberated Belgium and Holland also have rations below the minimum needed to sustain a man in reasonable health.

Not everybody gets even that. In the great cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, this spring, the people queued up at soup kitchens for daily handouts of boiled sugar beets—that was all. It came to 400 or 500 calories a day, and no vitamins to speak of. Anybody on that diet for long would die of starvation, and doubtless a good many did.

Besides, these minimum figures are to keep body and soul together, not to fuel a day’s work. Even in England manual workers get about 4,000 calories a day; here they normally eat more. In Europe merely living is hard work just now, and the task of rebuilding calls for colossal effort. Nobody is getting the extra food to support such an effort. France, for example, remembered how the Nazis had spurred French coal production by doubling miners’ food rations. French authorities, faced with another fireless winter, have tried to do the same thing—but they can’t produce the food.

Maybe the best way for Canadians to realize the European plight is to realize that by this standard even Britain Ls well off. The average Britisher,e ven on the reduced ration of 1945, is not far below 3,000 calories a day, only 500 short of what we and the Americans eat who can have all we want. But anyone who has been in England since the war knows how far short of satisfaction these 3,000 calories are.

Even visitors on expense accounts, living in West End (London) hotels, could see the British hadn’t really enough to eat—not enough meat, not enough fruit, not enough of the protective foods generally, above all not enough variety to make eating anything but a duty. Plenty of wheat and potatoes kept their calorie average up, but the food was one of war’s heaviest burdens to the people. And now in victory, instead of improving it’s got worse. .Just three weeks after V-E Day, the British were cut back from four to three ounces of bacon, half their normal consumption in days when they’d plenty of other meats as well.

It hasn’t been easy to take Men high up in the British Government said privately, last winter and spring, that there would be riots in Britain if food rations weren’t increased with victory. There haven’t been riots. Older people remembered it was the same after the last war. Although people grumbled a bit, they took it. But that was in steady, victorious Britain. How would you feel if you came out of five years’ slavery to Nazism, only to find that “freedom” meant even faster starvation than before?

Outside this continent, nobody can do much to supply the world’s wants. Australia, Argentina, North and South Africa have all had drought. Australia’s wheat crop was so far below normal that Canada had to send three million bushels of wheat to New Zealand, and some feed grain to Australia itself. North Africa, normally self-supporting in grain, has had a crop failure approaching famine-—it has asked the Combined Food Board for 100 million bushels, almost the full amount of a normal crop.

American production, of course, is still the backbone of world supply. But American production, especially in meat, has dropped sharply. And American requirements are just as sharply up.

Military needs have gone past even the high figures of 1944. The American services have almost as many men under arms, and in the Pacific, where distances are so colossal, tons more food must go into the supply line to keep stocks up at all storage points. Then there’s the growing requirement of military relief. On top of that are the needs of Allied armies. Those 30-odd divisions of Chinese, for example, that are being trained* by (¡eneral Wedemeyer, not only bear American arms but also eat American rations.

With all this the American Army and Navy have pre-empted one quarter, instead of one sixth, of the total American meat supply. The American civilian, who had been pretty miserable already what with poor distribution and a rampant black market, has even less than he had last year. And it cut Lend-Lease even harder. In the last quarter of this year I ¿end-Lease for Britain will get no meat at. all.

It adds up to on appalling set. of deficits. According to the Combined Food Board’s estimate, food supplies of the free world will he short this year of meeting even stringently rationed requirements as follows:

Supply avall, «ble in tons

Meat .............. 15 million

Canned fish ....... 418.000

Preserved milk . . 2S million

Fats and oils ...... 5’i million

Sugar ............. B million

Needed

Between 1/7 St 1/B ir\pre. Twice as much.

1/5 more.

Between 1/4 Sc 1/3 more. 1 '4 more. There’s enough wheat and other cereals, though it won’t be possible to send as much overseas as people need. Even if we hád the ships, Canada for one has only enough freight curs and grain elevators to move about 350 million bushels in a year, and we’ve almost that much on hand without touching this year’s crop. But everything else is scarce, everywhere.

This is the background of world-wide need against which Canadians huve to consider their 1945 effort to help feed humanity. The need is enormous, almost bottomless. Food experts think that never in all history has a higher percentage of mankind been threatened with starvation than now.

What can we in Canada do to lessen this crisis?

Not enough, however hard we try. Our supplies are smaller than last year, even though we are still eating them us merrily as ever, if now we tighten our belts and cut down consumption the most we can hope to do is merely to maintain our shipments of food overseas.

Canadian meat production this year is away down. Beef slaughterings are up, it’s true, but they’re far short of offsetting the 36% drop in hog production. Our total 1945 meat crop, estimated at Ottawa, will he nearly 250 million pounds below 1944.

So far every pound of that decrease, if not more, has come out of the so-called “surplus for export.” Domestic “needs,” in other words domestic consumer demand, has been satisfied first and the rest sent overseas. True, the Meat Board requisitioned hogs for export and took most of the pork handled by inspected plants. True, easterners have had a little trouble getting as much ham and bacon as they like. But the only limitation hits been upon choice. Any Canadian with money to buy could go into a shop and buy meat, any amount he wanted. And we all did.

This is tiie point that isn’t answered by statements about “per capita consumption.” Ottawa makes a good deal of fuss about the fact that Canadian civilians had fewer pounds of meat apiece during 1944 than American civilians. It’s true, of course, that part of the meat famine in the big American cities was caused by distribution trouble. It’s true, too, that the black market in the United States is far bigger, proportionately, than in Canada, and that it’s ominously well organized. But when all’s said and done, if Canadians ate less meat in 1944 than Americans did, it was because they wanted less. We ate all we wanted.

Canadians Ate All Beef

RIGHT THROUGH the first half of 1945, when Americans have been on even tighter rations and the rest of the world has been heading for starvation, Canadians continued to eat all they wanted out of a rapidly diminishing supply. High-grade hogs were being requisitioned for export, but beef wasn’t, and we fairly lit into the beef. Result was that the over-all figures of meat exports, shrunken as they are, give a milder impression than the reality. In June our beef exports practically ceased—we Canadians for a few weeks were eating it all.

Even pork, in spite of being requisitioned in the inspected plants, was in ever-diminishing supply there. Reason was that more and more hogs were being bought by the little noninspected plants. One little slaughterhouse in Toronto used to kill 15 hogs a week, at the time slaughter control was in force. During one week of June that same plant bought 159 hogs and was back in the market again next week. What’s it mean? It means black market.

So far there’s no evidence that the Canadian black market has grown to the colossal proportions of the American. There’s no evidence yet that it’s been organized into a big-time racket such as bootlegging was, with its own fleets of trucks, its own squads of buyers, its undercover distribution system. So far—partly because Canadian supply hasn’t been far below demand—our black market has just been the ordinary merchant, charging more than ceiling prices.

But there’s plenty of evidence that what we do have in the way of a black market has been increasing. One such evidence has been the high price paid on the open market for live cattle and hogs.

One thing that has made price control in meat and foods more difficult all along has been the Govern ment's failure to put price ceilings on live animals. in most commodities the price is controlled at all three levels, producer, wholesaler, retailer. But the meat "producer" is that political giant, the farmer, and the Government hasn't wanted to annoy him. So to the wholesaler of meat the Wartime Prices and Trade Board can only say, "This is the pric~ you're to sell at~ how and where you find your goods, and what you

pay for them, is up to you.” Lately cattle and hog prices have got completely out of line with ceiling prices for meat. In Montreal, not long ago, hogs were being sold at a price w hich worked out to 21 cents a pound dressed weight—the ceiling price of I pork was 19 cents a pound.

Continued on page 42

Not Enough to Eat

Continued from page 6

Even when live prices are low : enough to permit a small theoretical profit, such a profit could only be I realized by plants equipped to recover ; the last ounce of value from offals, fats,

I bones, hides, hair and all such byproducts. The only plants so equipped ! are the 40 to 50 inspected abattoirs, and not all of those. If price control were being observed, therefore, the trend would be for more and more animals to be bought by the big plants I —the ones able to make a legal profit. Exactly the opposite is taking place Fewer and fewer animals are going to the inspected plants, more and more to the little fellows.

Rationing Will Aid Control

In some ways, of course, meat rationing will make the task of control easier. For one thing it will certainly increase the investigation staff. For all food the enforcement division of WPTB now has only 150 people in 14 regional offices across Canada. They’ve conducted 150 prosecutions for price ceiling violations in meat alone since January, and won convictions in all but seven of them. If they can keep up that average, on the larger scale of an increased staff, it will do a lot to keep black marketeering down.

Then again, the reimposition of slaughter control will be a big help to the enforcement people. Up to now they’ve had no check on the diversion of cattle and hogs to the little noninspected plants—even though they knew, from the cattle prices that were going, that many of these places must be selling at illegal levels. There was nothing to prevent the huge increase in their operations. Now there is—each slaughterer in each district will have a quota and he can be prosecuted if he exceeds it.

Against all this, and more than offsetting it, is the fact that rationing this time is being imposed not merely to improve distribution but actually to cut consumption. Demand has already been pressing hard upon supply. From now on, demand will definitely exceed supply. There will be a constant pressure for more meat than can legally be offered.

And this meat can be obtained from many sources. There are less than 50 inspected packing plants in Canada, but there are nearly 12,000 licensed slaughterers. It would be impossible, no matter what enforcement legions were set to work, to police all of these.

Authorities have some concern lest rationing be the final stimulus needed to bring big-time organization into our black market. It was this worry, as well as political timidity, that delayed meat rationing so long after its necessity had become obvious. Certainly the material lies ready to hand, especially in the large eastern cities, for establishment of illegal business on a considerable scale.

In Montreal particularly there has been a sharp increase lately in the number of prosecutions for ceiling violations in meat. People who live there say that the black market itself has increased even beyond the upturn in prosecutions—they say it’s rife now. And so distributors there are in an ugly mood.

Early in July the Montreal Gazette reported that dealers at Bonsecours and Atwater Markets (gathering places for neighboring farmers) were offering potatoes at $6 a bag—$1.65 over ceiling price — and openly defying WPTB officials who told them this was illegal.

“They don’t have to buy if they don’t want to,” was the shout that went up, as about 15 farmers or truckers formed a circle round the two officials WPTB had sent down. “If they don’t want to buy at our price they can do without.”

Hardly an auspicious atmosphere for the introduction of a law that will forbid the farmer to kill his own pig.

Officials are realistic about their chances. They know that with full support of the public, they may swing this enforcement job. Without the support of the public, they know their chances are nil.

No Sugared Pill

For that public support they can offer no sugar coating for the ration pill. It will not, for instance, be possible to make up for meat by nny considerable increase in the purchase of other foods. Practically all foods are equally scarce.

Green vegetables, for one, are not going to be any easier to get. Domestic supplies are normal, imports rather tight. There will probably be as ample

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Milk products, cheese and so on will be unchanged. Eggs may be a little more plentiful, but they’re below demand already.

Fresh fish is a hand-to-mouth crop in Canada. This year’s catch has been holding up pretty well so far, but there’s no prospect of any sensational increasenot enough fishermen afloat to bring in many more than they have been doing. As for canned fish, it seemed last year that we had none at all, but actually we had 27 million pounds. This year we’ve been cut to 25 million, the balance going to swell our exports.

Our fruit crop is away down. British Columbia and Nova Scotia trees, hit by lethal frosts in the spring, will produce only about a quarter of their normal supply. Ontario’s crop isn’t so bad, but it’s below normal.

Even of the fruit we do produce a good deal may be wasted because there won’t be enough sugar for canning this summer. Canada doesn’t produce any raw sugar, except a relatively small amount from sugar beets. World sugar supply is away down—two million tons short of requirements. Reasons for the shortage are numerous—a five-week strike in Porto Rico cane fields, light planting in Cuba in 1943 because they thought the price too low, severe drought in the Caribbean area and a hurricane in western Cuba. Result of all this has been that by the end of 1945 world sugar supply will have hit rock bottom.

Canada can’t do anything about this. We can’t increase our sugar-beet plant— that would take two years, even if it were a justifiable project. We can’t get any more than our share of sugar from the Combined Food Board’s pool. So no matter how badly we feel about it, or how much we curse the Government because good fruit is spoiling, we shan’t have any more sugar. There isn’t any more.

All we can do, in the face of this variety of shortages, is grin and bear it. But it may help to bear it better if we remember who we are, and what we are, and how we stand in relation to the rest of the world.

Canada is coming out of this war with an international reputation she has never had before. So far at least we’re highly regarded everywhere.

Canadian civilians have been happy enough to bask in their country’s repute, but so far they’ve had nothing whatever to do to earn it. We haven’t missed a meal or a night’s sleep all through these terrible years. We haven’t had so much as a woodshed destroyed. We’ve had the highest standard of living in our history, second only to the American. And in food we’ve probably been the best off of anybody in the world—including the Americans.

We can keep up this standard by patronizing the black market. If we do, though, it’ll have to be at prices that will blow our long-guarded cost of living sky-high. It’ll ruin, in the considered opinion of Prices and Trade Board officials, the whole system of price control of which we’re so proud.

It will also make it impossible for Britain and the rest of Europe to maintain even the skimpy diets they’re existing on now. And therefore it will mean, almost certainly, that we, the safest and best-fed civilians in the world, will be throwing away the good name that Canadian fighting men have bought for their country with their blood.