The first practical question that will appeal to the housekeeper in regard to food is its cost. Long before she asks what proportion of carbohydrate, of fat, and of proteid she must provide for her family, the question, "What shall I spend for food?" appeals to her, and indeed she is often forced by absolute necessity to decide the question. Later, "How shall I spend?" will be the important problem.
Two main questions are involved. First, What proportion of the family income may go for food? What is the relation of the expenditure for food to that for rent, for clothing, for travel and amusement, for books and education? Second, What is the minimum cost per individual of food sufficient to give necessary nourishment? How much shall this minimum cost be exceeded for the sake of added attractiveness, increased digestibility, or adaptation to individual taste?
Nor is the cost of food a question of raw material alone. The amount of waste must be considered, the cost of the fuel used in cooking, and the cost of service. These often triple the original cost of the food.
Mr. Atkinson has said that half the cost of life is the price of food. This broad statement is true only in the case of the small income. A fairer interpretation of the matter is given by Dr. Engel, who has formulated four laws that in the main seem to hold, both in ideal and actual budgets. As quoted in The Cost of Living, the first of these laws is "that the proportion between expenditure and nutriment grows in geometric progression in an inverse ratio to well-being; in other words, the higher the income, the smaller is the percentage of the cost of subsistence." That is, while clothing, rent, heating and lighting keep a nearly invariable proportion, whatever the income, the proportion expended for food varies from sixty per cent in an income of three hundred dollars to twenty-five per cent or less in the three thousand dollar income.
Running Expenses include Wages, Fuel, Light, Ice, Etc. With $1,000 Income the Children Would be Educated in the Public Schools.
The above chart was adapted from a large colored chart prepared under the direction of Mrs. E. H. Richards for the Mary Lowell Stone Exhibit on Home Economics.
In discussing the amount of money needed for food, it is usual to consider the amount expended for each individual per day. How much is necessary to supply the required nourishment depends upon various factors. The locality will be important. As a rule, country prices are lower than those in the city, while in differ ent sections of the same city there may be wide variation. Eastern prices differ from those of the middle west, and these again from those prevalent in the far west or the south. In institutions where food is purchased in large amounts, the cost is less per person than in the individual household. An absolutely definite statement is, therefore, impossible, but a number of experiments have shown that a sufficient amount of the simplest raw food material may, under favorable circumstances, be furnished for from eight to ten cents a day per person. This implies the absolute exclusion of all but the cheapest materials. Fifteen cents for each person means a less limited choice in raw materials, but the most careful management and the strict denial of anything approaching luxury. For twenty-five cents a day, one may add to the dietary a limited amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in season, coffee and other beverages, a fair supply of milk, and may furnish a satisfactory variety of food, while forty cents per person gives an excellent table with added luxuries, though it will not purchase fruit out of season, such as strawberries in January, nor give an unlimited supply of high priced game and similar delicacies.
In deciding what one of these standards to adopt, the number of members in the family and the total amount of income must be considered. The typical economic family, on which estimates are made, is one of five members, two adults and three children, or four adults. The real family often has six or eight members, and this additional number must modify the application of economic theories to real life.