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Susan Green

The Housewife Gets Gypped on Food Prices!

(16 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 46, 16 November 1942, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Every store – in accordance with requirements – posts its “ceiling prices.” But —

The last time I bought “Niblets,” for example, they were 10 cents a can – while today, if I want them, I pay 15 cents.

The “ceiling” on “Niblets” has been raised by 50 per cent. Has the OPA perhaps heard about this escalating ceiling on “Niblets”?

Yes, every store – in a very touching cooperative spirit – posts its “ceiling prices.” But —

The last time I bought Del Monte seedless raisins I paid nine cents for a 15 oz. box. Before that they were two boxes for 15 cents. Today, if I want them, I pay 25 cents for two boxes.

The “ceiling” on seedless raisins has been elevated 662/3 per cent. Does the OPA perhaps know about the sprightliness of the “ceiling” on seedless raisins?

The “ceiling” on honey – recommended by government dietitians as an excellent substitute for sugar – is waving the housewife a sweet farewell. A pound of Orange Blossom honey used to be 49 cents. Today you pay 57 cents. True, it was once in a tin can and now it is in a glass jar. But surely that does not account for a boost of 16 per cent.

In these and other instances, the profiteering prices are slapped on WITHOUT ANY CAMOUFLAGE. Prices are shamelessly skyrocketed on the identical product. The wonder is that housewives continue to take such profiteering on the chin.

But there are also ways of CAMOUFLAGING ITEMS AND FOOLING the unwary – and these ways are being employed more and more.

Take a well known brand of soups, Campbells. For the longest time the vegetarian vegetable soup, to take an example, has sold three cans for 25 cents. Now you pay 21 cents for two cans – but the new can sports a label reading “NEW AND IMPROVED RECIPE.”

This label has the magic power of increasing the price from three cans for 25 cents to two cans for 21 cents – a difference upward of a mere 26 per cent. Investigating this matter further, this writer verified beyond doubt that the housewife is being bamboozled. There is absolutely no difference between the list of ingredients printed on an old can of tomato soup and the list of ingredients printed on a can bearing the label “new and improved recipe.” Both are made from tomatoes, butter, corn, oil, onions, parsley, wheat flour, salt, sugar, seasoning, spice water. The only change on the new can is the order in which the items are listed.

This writer was unable to get old cans of the other soups of this company to make comparisons. But if the tomato soup supposed to be made with a “new and improved recipe” is just the same as the old soup, what reason has anyone to suppose that any of the other soups are different?

Does the OPA know about this kind of fraud daily practiced on the consumer?

There has been a rumor around – or am I wrong? – that the job of the OPA is not only to know about such things – but to put a stop to them!

Instead, however, prices climb and war profiteering goes on – openly and under very thin camouflage.

There is reason to believe that at least local OPA offices not only know know about the gypping that goes on, but are perhaps responsible for it. A friendly butcher tells the writer this story:

At the wholesale house where he trades, he can no longer get boiled ham at the ceiling price. He was told they don’t carry it any more. A “new brand” called “fruited ham” – at a considerably higher price – was recommended to him. The friendly butcher swears that it is no new brand, but the same ham onto which the wholesaler slaps a few slices of pineapple – in order to be able to call it a “new brand” and raise the ceiling. The butcher tells me the wholesaler takes off the pineapple slices and uses them over and over on the same boiled hams.

This friendly butcher, inquiring around, has discovered that when wholesalers go to their local OPA offices and ask for permission to “adjust” ceilings upward, they are informed:

“If you use the same label and the same package, you can’t charge more!”

Such a broad hint would undoubtedly account for the “new and improved recipe” label on the same soup – for plain boiled ham blooming into “fruited ham” and for the strange-looking cans with new trade-names that are sneaking onto grocery shelves.

There may be a virtue in patience, but surely there is a limit. OPA “ceilings” are like vapor – constantly rising. The housewife is being gypped! How long will she put up with it?


Nearly every apartment house today has some joint tenant activity in connection with scrap drives and such. Why can’t housewives in each house get together with the others on the block, organize committees and do something about prices?

Working class housewives have allies in organized labor. They can call upon organized labor for help and for the benefit of its experience in winning demands. COMMITTEES OF HOUSEWIVES AND ORGANIZED LABOR CAN GO TO TOWN AND REALLY CONTROL PRICES!

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