Dietary Computing in 1902

This week’s feature is about computing nutrition and dietary information by hand. And if you’re like me with math, thankfully, the calculating is already done for you!

The full title of this work, in typical lengthy style, is: The Dietary Computer. Explanatory Pamphlet; the Pamphlet Containing Tables of Food Composition, Lists of Prices, Weights, and Measures, Selected Recipes for the Slips, Directions for Using the Same. We are particularly pleased to have a first edition of this set. Although we often talk about our Rare Book Collection, it’s fair to say that not every publication in Special Collections is one of only 1,000.  Published in 1902, the authors describe it in a number of ways:

The aim of this little pamphlet is to familiarize settlement workers and progressive housewives with a few fundamental principles used in making out bills of fare according to food values…[a] concentrated essence of something more delicate, to be used with judgment and discretion as a wire fence to guide the learner to better sources…[t]his is no new cookbook, it is only a bald statement of a few facts to help those who really wish to learn…

It isn’t a cookbook per se, but it does have recipes, and a quite a range of them. Everything from soups and vegetables, meat and fish dishes, and savory breads and puddings. However, the focus is on economics–how to get the best nutritional value for your buck, as it were. The book itself contains tables devoted to foods constant in the diet, food values by calorie, cost of 1,000 calories of various recipes, the “cost of 100 grams of nitrogenous substance,” and composition of food materials Table V includes the actual recipes.

A supplement, Methods in Household Economics, consists of price lists and meal planning charts. Although blank price lists are provided, there is also a set of lists for Boston prices (presumably for comparison purposes). So, if you’re wondering about the average cost for moose (35¢/pound) and other meats or fish, as well as  a head of cauliflower in July (40¢) or other vegetables, we can help! Just don’t be disappointed when you realize how much prices have changes…

Be sure to check back with us for some more nutrition-oriented features in the future. And until then, keep on computing!

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2 thoughts on “Dietary Computing in 1902

  1. jean robbins

    Interesting, Kira. When I was an Intern at Medical College of Virginia in 1950, we calculated diet values by hand from the USDA Tables; however there was a large(1/2 the room size calculator to calculate formulas for the Burn Unit patients and that was a task to figure how to get the figures! ) How far technology has advanced!

  2. Pingback: Women’s History Month, Part 20: Ellen H. (Henrietta) Swallow Richards (1842-1911) – What's Cookin' @ Special Collections?!

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