The Good Old Days – Part 1


Let’s begin this topic with a bit of doggerel that goes right to the heart of its subject.

“I Wonder What’s In It”

We sit at a table delightfully spread

And teeming with good things to eat.

And daintily finger the cream-tinted bread,

Just needing to make it complete

A film of the butter so yellow and sweet,

Well suited to make every minute

A dream of delight. And yet while we eat

We cannot help asking, “What’s in it?”

Oh, maybe this bread contains alum of chalk

Or sawdust chopped up very fine

Or gypsum in powder about which they talk,

Terra alba just out of the mine.

And our faith in the butter is apt to be weak,

For we haven’t a good place to pin it

Annato’s so yellow and beef fat so sleek

Oh, I wish I could know what is in it.

The pepper contains perhaps cocoanut shells,

And the mustard is cottonseed meal;

And the coffee, in sooth, of baked chicory smells,

And the terrapin tastes like roast veal.

The wine which you drink never heard of a grape,

But of tannin and coal tar is made;

And you could not be certain, except for their shape,

That the eggs by a chicken were laid.

And the salad which bears such an innocent look

And whispers of fields that are green

Is covered with germs, each armed with a hook

To grapple with liver and spleen.

The banquet how fine, don’t begin it

Till you think of the past and the future and sigh,

“How I wonder, I wonder, what’s in it.”

Harvey Washington Wiley, 1899





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