What's In It?

Harvey Washington Wiley isn't a name I had known before reading the March 1912 issue of The National Geographic Magazine, but if you are among those who care about the quality of your food supply, you should, perhaps, build a little shrine to him somewhere in your kitchen. Because Harvey Washington Wiley was (thank you, Wiki) "a noted chemist best known for his leadership in the passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and his subsequent work at the Good Housekeeping Institute laboratories. He was the first commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration."

Harvey Washington Wiley was a featured speaker at the 1912 annual meeting of the National Geographic Society, and he finished his short oration with this:

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?"

O maybe this bread contains alum and 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.
Annatto's so yellow and beef fat so sleek.
Oh, I wish I could know what is in it!

The pepper perhaps contains cocoanut shells,
And the mustard is cotton-seed meal;
The coffee in sooth of baked chicory smells,
And the terrapin tastes like roast veal.
The wine which you dink never heard of a grape,
But of tannin and coal-tar is made,
And you could not be certain, except by the shape,
That the eggs by a chicken were laid.

And the salad that 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.
No matter how tired, and hungry, and dry,
The banquet how fine, don't begin it
Till you think of the past and the future and sigh,
Oh! I wonder, I wonder what's in it?