|Underwood Deviled Ham: 1899.|
"An honest New England product put
up under the nicest, cleanest conditions."
Plenty of experiments with food additives in the past were much worse than what we find now, both in canned and other processed foods. Well-meaning food producers even poisoned kids by overdosing them with vitamin supplements, according to Bee Wilson's book Swindled, which I wrote about last week. If you read Swindled, you'll see that modern people who believe that impure and unhealthful food is a new phenomenon are victims of what Language Log calls "the recency illusion."
In this post I'll focus on one particular canned food that came on the market in 1870: Underwood Deviled Ham, which I mentioned in a recent discussion of Halloween foods. Evidently, the product was recognized as food in the days of our several-times-great grandmothers. It's exactly the type of food that I think modern purists are rejecting. (I'll skip the fact that my grandmother, being traditionally Jewish, shunned pork, and just talk about the product. Mark Bittman is every bit as Jewish as I am, and we both eat pork now, but that's beside the point.)
Consumer worries about food safety and purity seem to have been around throughout the life of this product -- over 140 years -- as reflected in the way Underwood promoted Deviled Ham and other similar canned goods. Facsimiles of Underwood's numerous print ads are easy to find on the web -- I think the Devil Logo attracts collectors of ads. It's interesting just to follow the development of the Devil logo, now the oldest trademark in continuous use, as well as to examine the types of persuasive arguments the ads included.
Underwood ads appeared in women's magazines and other publications for much of the 20th century. Like the one at the top of the page, they frequently emphasized that the contents of the can are clean, safe, and pure -- which shows how they expected the public to think of canned meat. Clearly, over 100 years ago people were just as worried about additives and dangerous foods as they are today.
|1906. The emphasis is on pure ingredients:|
"FIT FOR THE GODS...Made only of the finest sugar-cured
ham and the choicest of spices: always the same"
|These ads all promote purity,|
for example, the "clean,
sunlit, New England kitchen"
where Underwood products are
|1914. "You don't have to be good at|
guessing games, to guess what makes
Underwood Deviled Ham the Big Taste
for "partynics" and picnics of every kind!
|No date, but appears to be a very early ad: "There is not one particle|
of coloring matter nor preservative in Underwood's goods.
On Underwood ham labels now, in 2014, the list of ingredients is "Ham (Cured with Water, Salt, Brown Sugar, Sodium Nitrite) and Seasoning (Mustard Flour, Spices, Turmeric)." I wonder if the old ads conveniently left out the nitrite and other additives traditionally used to cure the ham. I bet they did! And I'd love to know how much their 19th century canning plant resembled a "clean, sunlit, New England kitchen."