Editorial: The Food of the People

Let the people eat grass, said the representative of the governing class in reply to the clamour of a hungry populace in the days that preceded the French Revolution; and let the people eat the poisonous products of Packingtown say that portion of the capitalist governing class of to-day engaged in drawing their profits from that nauseating undertaking. And from the point of view of capitalism, why not ? If diseased flesh, decaying offal, and excrementitious matter can be dosed with essences to change its taste and chemicals to stay the process of decomposition and after passing through embalming machinery appear upon epicurean tables as ham, chicken and tongue, or other delectable comestible, and upon the scanty board of the hungry as corned beef or what not; and if this can be done without inducing nausea in those who eat and without coroners’ verdicts of death from ptomaine or other poisoning being too closely associated with the “food”-stuff; and if, above all, it can be done at a good fat profit—why not, indeed ? Why cant of the “moral” aspect and blether of the anti-Social rapacity of the vendors of such filth? Are they more anti-social or immoral than the God-fearing capitalist who locks out his men for refusing to submit to his terms, or shuts down his factory or mine when, through the arduous toil of his “hands” a surplus has accumulated which he can then proceed to work off at enhanced prices ? He doesn’t care greatly whether the men thrown out of employment starve to death. It isn’t expected of him. He is quite within his right in the action he takes. “The law allows it, the court awards it.” If the unemployed refuse to die quietly, he is quite justified in shooting them into eternity. He is even applauded for his “strong” action in protecting property and maintaining order. The embalmer of “beef,” or filth, as the case may be—or rather the capitalist director of that “industry”—is just as indifferent to the fate of the purchaser as his kind order-loving fellow capitalist is to the fate of his discharged hand. Yet a mighty roar of indignation goes up when we get a sensational disclosure of the “food” embalmers’ method and the name of Armour is anathema; while the only roar that goes up at the Featherstone disclosures is one of congratulation and the name of Masham is honoured in the land.

The only apparent reason for this divergence of opinion is that the probable purchasers of “canned delicacies” are to some extent members of the capitalist class themselves and their esprit de corps is not equal to the strain of a possible painful death even in the noble cause of unlimited profits. It is fairly certain that if it had been merely a question of the revolting conditions under which the workers of Packingtown were forced to exist, the stir would have been barely sufficient to perceptibly disturb the social placidity. That at any rate has been the invariable effect of other disclosures of working-class hardships and unhappiness in the process of production. They can be poisoned by lead or pork, killed by starvation or bullets, cremated, suffocated or drowned in mines, worked under revolting conditions in Chicago or Cradley or Whitechapel or the Potteries. That is of no great consequence. But let the suspicion get abroad that the capitalist goes in danger of his life from poisoned food out of Chicago or of disease-infested clothing out of Whitechapel and the Social “conscience” is immediately aroused, the “soul” of Society is stirred to its deepest depths, and we are in the throes of a great popular agitation assiduously fostered by Press and Pulpit, for something to be done to end such immoral rapacity.

The Chicago disclosures simply go to show that adulteration is still regarded by the capitalist class as it was by that “Christ-like” political pet of Nonconformity and Liberalism, John Bright, as a legitimate form of competition. The keener the competition the greater the adulteration. And when competition finds its inevitable end in monopoly what more natural than that the methods which have accompanied its evolution should remain to assist in the creation of greater profits. “Morality” has nothing to do with it. The question of profits is the only thing that matters to capitalism—that and a tender regard for longevity. While commodities are produced for profit there will always he adulteration and unemployment and sweating and misery and poverty. They all spring from the same source in the private ownership of the means of living and although it may occur that some of the more revolting and dangerous of that private ownership may be suppressed, they cannot be disposed of until the cause bas been attacked and removed. Until then the people are at the mercy of the capitalist profit-monger in the matter of their food-stuffs as in all else.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, July 1906)

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