Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sardines and sardines

[From Hearings of the General Tariff Revision before the Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives, 1921. Joseph W. Fordney of Michigan chaired. George O’Hara represented the Associated Importers of Food Products, New York. Click for a larger view.]

The Chairman. In your opinion, what creates the chief difference between the retail prices, they are somewhere near the same size.

Mr. O’Hara. The quality, absolutely nothing else.

The Chairman. The quality?

Mr. O’Hara. The quality, yes; there is no such thing as a sardine on the Maine coast. Those sardines on the Maine coast are shipped south and sold to the negroes. They are sold as low as $3.50 and $4 a case, I believe. They are also sent to the large centers and sold in the sweat shops in the large commercial centers where a man buys a 5-cent tin of sardines and a package of Uneeda Biscuit and calls that his lunch.
I have always thought of sardines as a poor-people’s food: my dad, as a boy, had a sardine sandwich for lunch every damn schoolday. But now I understand that there were sardines and there were sardines. O’Hara goes on to say that what’s packaged in Maine is herring, not sardines. He mentions a tin of domestic “sardines” selling seven cents and a tin of French sardines selling for ten times as much.

Fordney follows this exchange with some fulminating: “In the South I employ negro labor”; “I know that the negroes are well fed”; “I know that the negro has a better lunch than that.” (Fordney was in the lumber business.) But no one on the committee disputes the sardine-and-cracker lunch of the sweatshop worker.

And speaking of sardines and crackers.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[Seventy cents in 1921 = $9.32 in 2015.]

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