Food in the package costs more than in bulk, and each fancy label adds a fraction to the cost. Plate-glass windows and ribbon decorations in a shop and the large expense of rent on a fashionable street are all paid for by the consumer.
When prepared food of any kind is purchased, one pays for raw material plus the cost of fuel and the labor involved in the cooking and the cleaning of apparatus and .kitchen. For example, canned soup sold by one of the best manufacturers brings a good price because so much time and labor are used in a careful inspection of all material, and in keeping up a high standard of cleanliness. Remember, too, that whenever cooked food appears on the table, these two items, fuel and labor, are in reality added to the cost of the raw material.
We may not pay cash always for the labor, but it must be accounted for in time and energy. The woman who says, "My time doesn't count," has a poor opinion of herself. Whether or not it is better to buy cooked food or to prepare food at home is discussed on page 292.
So far we have considered those causes of food prices that are what may be called "natural," always to be taken into account, and only partly under our control. There are others that have to do with big business methods and interests and that have great influence at some one period in a nation's life, and less at others. They are more or less under our control if we have the wisdom and courage to act. A discussion of these causes is part of the study of economics proper, and we can only stop by the way to think of them for a moment.
Transportation must always increase cost, as we have learned, but bad methods, involving the handling of food by many people, increase it unnecessarily. Our present methods of marketing food are clumsy, and not economical, especially in large cities. The subject is being seriously studied with a view to improvement, possibly by the establishment of public markets.
At present we have a bewildering state of things, but the housekeeper who sincerely desires, can learn to buy and prepare the less costly foods in an appetizing way, and leave nothing for the garbage pail but the parts that are actually not eatable.
It would be useless to print here a list of actual prices, since they vary in different localities, and are constantly changing. This list can be made by yourselves in your notebooks for your own home town, and for the current year. The table on page 317 is a guide, however, for in spite of fluctuations in prices there are certain foods that are permanently more economical than others; for example, grain products than meats, for reasons already explained. As a rule, the rising cost of food has been so general as not to change greatly the relative economy of the different types of food as compared with each other.