1920 Food Cost Comparison

Several foods (Quaker Oats, meats, eggs, muffins, potatoes, custard) with a cost comparison beneath them
Source: From a Quaker Oats advertisement, American Cookery, January, 1920

Food is expensive today. A hundred years ago people also worried about the high price of food. A 1920 Quaker Oats advertisement compared the costs of different foods, and (of course) determined that Quaker Oats was an inexpensive source of calories. Somehow I don’t think that the relationship between calories and cost would be featured in an advertisement today . . . but on second thought, maybe it still works. Not sure.

53 thoughts on “1920 Food Cost Comparison

    1. We’re doing well. I hope that you are also doing well and safe. Cost comparisons like this that are based on calories makes me realize how tight money must have been for many families a hundred years ago.

    1. I agree – This advertisement suggests to me that many families a hundred years ago had very limited incomes, and found it really challenging to feed their families.

  1. Now that I think about it, I do think in these terms, if almost subconsciously. Terms like “low-cost protein” are still with me, perhaps thanks to my mother and my home ec teacher. Another phrase that reflects this, at least in a way, is “nutrient rich,” which is a phrase I come across often.

    1. A factor I consider when buying a relatively expensive food is whether the food is “nutrient rich.” If it is nutrient rich, I might splurge. If not, I may not buy the item. I don’t think that I usually think about calories per dollar – and if anything would tend to prefer a pricey nutrient-rich low-calorie food, over a nutrient-rich high-calorie food.

    1. I often eat oatmeal, too. I generally think about the health benefits rather than the price when I buy oatmeal – though I appreciate that it is relatively inexpensive.

    1. That’s an interesting question. I wonder how the farm to retail price spread has changed over the years. It would make a good research question for someone.

  2. I’ve read current articles that talk about the price per calorie. The articles were about how people on food stamps think that way so that their money goes farther toward buying them energy.

    1. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way before, but it makes sense that individuals with very limited incomes would think about more about the calories that they are getting for their food dollar.

    1. That makes sense. I don’t explicitly think about price when planning a meal for a large group – but, now that I think about it, I definitely won’t serve a pricey food like lamb chops to a large group. So may I beam considering price when planning meals.

  3. It strikes me that calories in the advertisement are seen as a GOOD thing – something to strive for and something that many people at that time weren’t getting enough of. That is a chance from our world today now that our food has become so calorie-laden.

  4. Never price food using calories….interesting . I enjoy oatmeal … we just had baked oatmeal with peaches. It’s not really a supper food, but I rather enjoy breakfast foods anytime of the day.

      1. No it’s more like a hot cake. Then you chop up fresh fruit or canned …Leona likes canned peaches puréed . Then you either use milk or cream to pour over it.

  5. I love your site. My thanks for sharing such a good post. I was looking for thoughts on this topic last Thursday. I will come back to read more and inform my coworkers about your site.

  6. Holy wow! I came here because I typed in pickled bananas and you have posted a recipe like 20 years ago on the topic. Is your blog the oldest on the internet?
    I am beyond impressed at your stamina and longevity on this area of culinary interest.
    How about cooking with lard??
    And pigeon..

    1. This blog has been around awhile, though there are many that are older. I started this blog in 2011 as a place to post my grandmother’s diary entries a hundred years to the day after she wrote them. She kept the diary from 1911 through 1914. Once I posted all the diary entries, I quit posting for a few months, and then realized that I missed blogging so reinvented the blog to make focus on food from a hundred years ago.

      Many recipes from a hundred years ago call for lard. It was a traditional fat used by many cooks in the United States. However, by the early 1900’s commercial shortenings were also being produced; and, they were considered to be “modern” fats that were clean, white, and of consistent quality. I bought 1920 promotion cookbooks published by the makers of Crisco and Snowdrift (a cottonseed oil – based shortening) off Ebay, and sometimes use recipes from those cookbooks as the basis for posts – though I often substitute butter for the shortening.

      I have never made a pigeon recipe – though I’d like to give it a try, if I ever see pigeon (which is often called squab) for sale at the store. I’ve often seen squab recipes in old cookbooks. I also seen rabbit recipes in the old cookbooks. I’ve considered making one of the rabbit recipes, but never have. Rabbit is sold in the freezer section of high-end stores around here, but is very expensive (usually over $30), and I’ve never been able to bring myself to pay that much to try a recipe.

      1. Thanks for your lovely reply.
        I sincerely hope what you do(and have done), brings you pleasure and I will make time to find the diary entries of your grandmother online.
        People who enriched others lives need to be remembered and celebrated.
        As for cooking I am a chef myself of 30 years continuous cooking in kitchens all over Australia and a decade in London.
        I always like to expand my knowledge and your blog is a great resource that I will share.
        Thank you very much.

  7. Interesting comparisons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these for current times and, like you, not sure that it would work. Things like this remind me of how my Grandma cooked, kept a budget and had to plan meals for the family based on nutritious value as well as cost. I don’t think most people today even give it much thought.

    1. You may be right – people probably thought more about the relationship between calories and nutritional value a hundred years ago then they do now.

  8. Isn’t it interesting to see what products were around back then, which we still eat today? I found in my attic a 1920s telegram from India with a Quaker Oats advertisement on it, so ate a bowl of oatmeal in honor of that 🙂 I’m digging deep into the 1920s these days, writing my grandparent’s biography.

    1. Wow, it’s amazing that you found the 1920s telegram with a Quaker Oats ad. I never would have guessed that it was a food known round the world that long ago. It sounds like a fun project to write your grandparent’s biography.

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