Problems of a Great City

White, Arnold


CHAPTER VII: Adulteration

CHAPTER VII: Adulteration


Mahomet, at the Farewell pilgrimage, enjoined his followers in these words:-

" And your slaves ! see that ye feed them with such food as ye eat yourselves, and clothe them with the same stuff ye wear. And if they commit a fault which ye incline not to forgive, then sell them; for they are the servants of the Lord, and are not to be tormented." The white serfs of capital are tormented with many evils. Not the least of these evils is the tainted food and drink supplied to them under the present system. Mr. Bright is in a measure responsible for the palsy that has stayed the hand of the law and shaken the opinion of the public in regard to the matter


of adulteration. It is a "form of competition," says the right honourable Gentleman. That little phrase has had wide and farreaching effects in composing the consciences of venal traders. "It is a form of competition," whispers the grocer to himself, as he sands his sugar or waters his vinegar. Food and drink are persistently debased by spurious ingredients; quality is counterfeited, bulk increased, appearance improved, and constituents abstracted with impunity. Legislation does not lag. It is not enforced. is an excellent measure-for well-todo people. The proof of its excellence is shown by the quality of the tea and sugar well-to-do people are able to buy. When the poor man buys his two-pennyworth of " coffee," half-ripe, insect-eaten and sea-damaged, blended with chicory which has been treated to an admixture of beans, acorn flour, lupin seed, " Hambro' powder," mangold wurtzel, and spent tan, the law says to him-" If you have reason to believe your purchase is adulterated, you can set in motion the machinery of the t by placing a deposit varying from half-a-crown to half-a-guinea in


the hands of the local authority. If, on analysis, your suspicions are confirmed by the scientific gentlemen with competent medical, chemical, and microscopical knowledge, your deposit shall be returned to you." The poor man, however, does not happen to have a spare half-guinea available for scientific research, and he is unacquainted with the existence of the beneficent legislation which has been enacted for his behoof. As a natural consequence, the is essentially a piece of class legislation. It is adapted to protect the rich man and his family. To the care of the venal and voracious vestrymen is left the protection of the tribe of poor. Tea in is remarkable for characteristics acquired after being despatched from or . Floor dust and sweepings are the principal ingredients.

Bread is adulterated with rice. In practice 100 lbs. of flour will make from 133 lbs. to 137 lbs. of bread; so that a sack of 280 lbs. of flour should yield 95 four-pound loaves. The baker's skill is shown by contriving to increase the number. This he effects by the addition of a gummy mess of boiled rice,


which enables him to increase his out-turn by five per cent. Such bread generates obscure fungoids with rapidity, and on a warm day turns sour in twelve hours.

The test for good flour is its sweetness and freedom from acidity and musty flavour. Good flour, when kneaded, yields a tough, elastic gluten, which, when baked in an oven, expands and appears of a rich brown colour. Bad flour makes a ropy-looking gluten, difficult of manipulation, and is of a dirty brown colour when baked. Oils are adulterated with inferior kinds, and the fraud is detected by means of the specific gravity of the oils.

Isinglass is adulterated with gelatine, the fraud being so contrived as to retain, to some extent, the well-known character of genuine isinglass. The true isinglass may be recognised from the false in the following way: immersed in cold water the shreds of genuine isinglass become white and opaque like cotton threads, and they swell equally in all directions, whereas those of gelatine become transparent and ribbon-like.

Mustard is so powerful in flavour it is commonly diluted with flour, turmeric being added


to improve the appearance. Genuine mustard does not contain starch, and does not become blue when treated with a solution of iodine.

The bees of English cottagers flit from flower to flower without result, for the adulteration of honey is so universal that there is little or no demand for the genuine English article.

Pepper, cinnamon, curry-powder, ginger, and cayenne are also the subjects of fraudulent adulteration. Linseed meal and powdered capsicums are used for adulterating pepper. Ginger powder is sophisticated with sago, meal rice, and turmeric, while the colouring agents of curry-powder and cayenne are earth, brick-dust, red lead, and vermilion. Spices are sometimes deprived of their active properties before they are ground and sold to the poor.

Beer is adulterated, especially on Saturdays in the small beershops, to give fictitious strength, to improve the body and flavour, and to impart a bitterness. For these purposes tobacco, opium, indicus cocculus, capsicums, ground ginger, liquorice, treacle, salt, quassia, gentian, and horehound are employed


as adulterants. The brutal violence so often committed after an orgie on beer only is probably caused by the maddening influences of some of these ingredients. It is needless to describe the adulterants employed in degrading the qualities of wines at Hamburg and elsewhere, as wine is not consumed in the -except on high days and holidays, when some bacchanalian may call for a " pot of port " to treat his boon companions.

The adulteration of spirits consists mostly in the use of raw and inferior spirit. The newness of spirit is a great evil. East-Enders have acquired a taste for fusel oil. Ripe old whisky, ten years old, drunk in equal quantities, would probably impart a tone of sobriety to the densely-populated quarters of which we are speaking.

Butter is probably seldom sold to the very poor. One shilling a pound is the price of the grease sold to them as butter. Fat and mud appear to be the constituents employed in this department of dairy industry. Milk is adulterated with the adulterated water sold by the water companies. The same "form of competition " enters into the preparation of sugar,


which contains insoluble ingredients-flour, oatmeal, and arrowroot.

Meat is adulterated, under the meaning of the Act, by selling as English that which is really of American or Australasian origin. Twenty-five million pounds of frozen mutton are annually imported into England. Most of this meat is fraudulently sold as English mutton. Until a master butcher is tied down over an ants' nest, or otherwise visited with the displeasure of society, the practice of falsifying the character of meat is likely to continue. What is known as "croaker" meat (Scottish braxie)-flesh from an animal dying a natural death-is disposed of by costermongers. now and then prosecute the salesmen of this bad meat, and sometimes a conviction ensues. Pickles are in much favour in , and from the admixture of copper do not escape the universal contamination. Relishes such as bright green pickles are used to season the digestion of offal purchased of " cag-mag " butchers. Savouries are much liked.

Adulteration in other countries is strictly


prohibited under penal obligations. The Prussian penal code provides that any person selling adulterated or spoiled goods shall be fined, or, as an alternative, imprisoned for six weeks, with confiscation of goods; and it is not necessary to prove that the seller was aware of the adulteration. In , and in by the Code Napoleon, a sentence of imprisonment varying from six days to two years may be inflicted.

The manner in which the materials for food and drink are adulterated in England is exemplified by a little story. There were three flies who were great friends. These flies started on a journey in search of something to eat. They came to a piece of bread; one of the flies being very hungry stepped in advance of his companions and fastened eagerly on to the bread; it contained alum, and the fly died in great agony from the contraction of his digestive apparatus. His remaining companions, oppressed with grief, mourned his loss, but hunger compelled them to seek subsistence. They arrived at a bowl of sugar, of which one partook; the sugar contained sulphuric acid, and one more unhappy


insect laid down his life. The survivor, bereft of his companions, determined to end by suicide his lonely existence, so he alighted on a fly-paper, partook of the poison thereon, and prepared himself for death, but to his surprise he found that instead of death or disease he had made a good and healthy meal -the fly-paper was adulterated.

No remedy for adulteration of the food and drink of the poor is possible until the present tangle of local government is cut away. To burden East End ratepayers with a large increase to the existing inspectorial staff is impracticable and unjust. The equalization of rates is a measure which must precede any serious effort to grapple with the widespread degradation of food. The next step is to increase the numbers of the , and to support those gentlemen in their task by inflicting far more serious punishment on adulterators than is possible under existing legislation. Increased severity in the punishment for this class of offence is justified in the interests of posterity. If public opinion is ripe for the imprisonment of those who are guilty of adulterating


bayonets, or supplying unserviceable guns, there is but a short step to be traversed in order to treat as criminal whoever impairs the stamina of the next generation by selling garbage as food, or poison as drink. The evil is national in its dimensions. Nothing short of the exercise of national will can abate and extinguish a system unknown to the heathen, which has already lost to England some of her foreign trade in calicoes and cottons, and which justly exposes her to the contempt and hatred of the simpler and less civilized nations of the earth.