A comparison of food consumption and food prices of to-day with those of a hundred years ago, shows some interesting changes.

A hundred years ago McCulloch (29) estimated the income per head of the United Kingdom at £16-17 per annum, and the expendi­ture on food at £8. Corresponding figures to-day are £78 and £23 8s. The rise in the standard of living of the last 100 years has been accompanied by a decrease in percentage of the income spent on food.

In 1835 the prices of bread and flour were much the same as they are to-day, but the average consumption per head was 80 per cent, greater. The consumption of sugar was 20 Ibs. per head. Now it is five times as great. Better class industrial workers in Manchester in 1836 consumed about 1/2 oz. of tea per head per week and 7 ozs. of sugar (32). Workers of a corresponding type to-day consume 3 ozs. of tea and nearly 35 ozs. of sugar in all forms. This five-fold increase in sugar consumption is the most striking change in the nation’s diet during the last 100 years. It has, of course, been rendered possible by the great fall in price. A hundred years ago sugar cost about 6d. a Ib. (39). It now costs less than half.

From the nutritional standpoint this increase in the consumption of sugar is not so desirable as an increase in certain other foodstuffs, such as milk, would have been. A hundred years ago milk cost about l£d. a pint. To-day it costs more than double. Information on consumption of milk is scanty, but the consumption per head does not appear to have been lower a hundred years ago and in rural areas was possibly higher.

A Committee of the British Association (7), appointed in 1881, gave the first detailed estimates of food consumption.    Comparing the figures for 1934 with those given by the Committee for 1881, the most striking changes are:   Consumption per head of bread and potatoes is 30 per cent, less, of meat 45 per cent, more,  of   sugar 40 per cent, more, of tea and butter double.

Comparison of the estimates for 1934 with those given by Sir Alfred Flux for 1909-13 and 1924-28, as given in Table 2 below, shows a continued change in the national dietary.

Table 2
1909-13.

1924-28.

1934
Quantity. As Percentage of 1909-13. Quantity.

As Percentage of 1909-13.

Ibs.

Ibs.

Ibs.

Fruit

61

91

149

115

188

Vegetables (other than potatoes)

60

78

130

98

164

Butter

16

16

100

25

167

Eggs

No. 104

No. 120

115

No. 152

146

Cheese

7

9

128

10

143

Margarine

6

12

200

8

133

Sugar

79

87

110

94

119

Meat

135

134

99

143

106

Potatoes

208

194

93

210

101

Wheat flour

211

198

94

197

93

It will be seen that, with the exception of wheat flour and potatoes, there has been a substantial increase in the consumption of most of the principal foods since before the war. The largest increases have been in fruit, fresh vegetables, butter and eggs. In each case the rate of increase has been greater since 1924-28 than in the previous fifteen years.

The movement of butter consumption should be considered in relation to that of margarine consumption. In 1924-28 margarine consumption was twice the pre-war level, while that of butter remained unchanged. Since then margarine has fallen by one-third, while butter has increased by 57 per cent. The increase in consumption coincides with a fall of 48 per cent, in price. The consumption of butter and margarine together is now 50 per cent, higher than before the war.

Table 3 below, gives a comparison of calorie, protein, fat and carbohydrate intake in the three periods. The increase in intake of total calories since 1909-13 is about 6 per cent. Consumption of carbohydrate and of vegetable protein has fallen, while that of animal protein has risen slightly. The most marked change is the rise of 25 per cent, in the consumption of animal fats.

Table 3
Average 1909-1913 Average 1924-1928 Average 1934.
Per head per day. Per head per day. Per head per day.
Animal protein   grams 43 43 46
Vegetable protein 43 42 41
Total protein 86 85 87
Animal fat 87 91 109
Vegetable fat 12 19 15
Total fat 99 110 124
Carbohydrates 436 431 425
Calories 3057 3139 3246

These increases in consumption of animal fat, and of fruit and fresh vegetables, are increases in foods of high biological value. It will be seen from the detailed analysis of budget diets below that they represent an increased intake of essential vitamins and mineral salts. It may therefore be said that, on the average, the national diet improved between 1909 and 1934.

An alternative statistical method of comparison is to compile an index number of food consumption by applying to the quantities of food consumed at different dates the same set of price values. At current prices this index of food consumption shows an increase of 7.5 per cent, in the first period, and of 25 per cent, over the whole interval.

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