Tale Of Two Diners, Published 26 January 1943

This might be called Tale of Two Diners, or Uncle Sam's meat famine. If, at its conclusion, Hon. James Gardiner, minister of Agriculture, thinks he is entitled to a bow, he may take one.
When I rode the Burlington Zephyr, I enjoyed in anticipation my forthcoming noonday meal in the diner. Yet when I ultimately perused the menu. I did not see much that I liked, and settled for scallops. Once they were put in front of me, there seemed vaguely to be something wrong, for here I was riding through the corn belt, with the frozen stalks whirring by my window, and yet I was devouring scallops. Sea food and Central Illinois they just did not seem to go together.

* * *

The next day, I conjured up the same gastronomical dream for my ride on the Mercury. When lunch time came, I saw three entrees. They were namely stuffed mackerel, ox tongue, and kidney something or other. I noted there was not a real meat order, and so quested in the a la carte column for steaks, chops, or perhaps roast. None such appeared. I settled for the piscatorial item, and when it was all over, fell into conversation with the steward. He finally gave me the clue to a lot of loose thoughts that only now started to accrete in my mind.
"Did you notice," he said, "that we have no meat orders. We had to drop them. Have not had them on the bill of fare for about three weeks"
Then unfolded the tale. This meat shortage apparently was why I ate scallops in the corn belt, on yesterday's Zephyr. This was why I heard a lady in Chicago rush to the phone when downtown and tell her sister to be sure and order the meat before it was all gone. That was why another lady told me that it was now possible to go into a Chicago butcher shop and find out that the butcher was completely sold out. Those of you who see "The Neighbors" cartoons in The Evening Citizen, will appreciate that I am not exaggerating, if you saw George Clark's drawing of the empty butcher shop, with one butcher saying to the other: "Why don't you slip out and do a little Christmas shopping. I can take care of anyone who might want to look at that chicken we've got in the refrigerator!"
This too would explain why seven packers had to close in Chicago. This in Chicago, the meat capital of the world!

* * *

Now then, the Mercury was almost as vegetarian as George Bernard Shaw. That diner was cut off at Windsor, and on Train No. 22, which came through, another diner was put on. You might say this was done one mile down the track from Detroit. Yet on the Canadian diner, you could get steak, roast, and chops. I settled for one thirty cent lamb chop. Anyway, Canadian diners still carried meat.
It would appear to me that Canada's distribution of meat products is still pretty good. It has been the habit of Canadians to look across the line, and point out how well things are done in the States. They are always held up to us as models of efficiency. Rightly so, most of the time. But Canada, with less than 12,000.000 people, and in her fourth year at war. was able to manage better than United States, with 120.000.000 people, just beginning our second year of war. I think it speaks well that in our country, where in most areas cattle cannot be produced economically at all, we still can provide meat in our public eating places including diners.
Now I know the States is doing a Herculean job. but so are we. and there are so pitifully few of us. we are so badly scattered, so sparsely spread. You could ram all the maritime provinces in Detroit. Los Angeles alone could absorb the whole three prairie provinces, Pittsburgh and British Columbia represent an approximate population par. So it seems to me. that if we are still able somehow to supply Britain, to supply our own troops overseas, to feed the British, and other soldiers within our gates, and still have meat orders with meals, somebody somewhere is doing a pretty fair job. This is certainly no discredit to United States, but she has more highways, telephone lines, and railways than we can ever hope to have. She has just about everything the ideal state of a bookish economist could possibly demand to reach distribution peaks. Yet Canada is still able to make the meat go round. Surely our government can take a bow. And if the often abused Mr. Gardiner is responsible, then why deny him the credit?

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Now to generalize about my trip. When you go to a foreign country, it is not the big and obvious things that tell you how things are going. It is the little, almost unnoticed items that give you the true picture. Canadian newspapermen ought to go to the States as often as they can. not just to write news, but to absorb background, so that they can write intelligently of what is going on. not only in the other fellow's country, but our own. I am not making dining-car menus the criterion of war effort. But I say the tendency of some Canadian writers is akin to the man who lived at the bottom of a well, and appraised everythins from that stance because he knew no other.

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Updated 28 July 2019