It dates from the heyday of home economics, a time when scientific principles were being applied to domestic life. Recipes are mixed in with nutritional information, guidance on the finer points of etiquette, and what we could call today "financial literacy".
Below the fold I have reproduced a recommended food budget for the 20th century homemaker:
Noteworthy in the Canadian Cookbook's budget is the off-hand remark "the largest expenditure of the income is for food". Not rent. Not child care. Not utilities. Food. Relatively speaking, food used to be much more expensive than it is now.
Second, 20 to 25 percent of the food budget was supposed to go to milk, cream and butter! Now the Canadian Cookbook recommended people drink a lot of milk - one quart (4 cups) per child per day, and a half quart per adult per day. So a family of three children and two adults would go through four quarts of milk - a bit over four litres - a day. Let's say they went through half a pound of butter, too. At today's prices, that's about $8.00 of milk and butter daily.
To live within the Canadian Cookbook's suggested budget shares, a family of 6 spending $8 per day on milk, butter and cream would have to buy all of their other food for $24 to $32 per day.
Now, it is possible to feed a family of 5 for $24 plus milk and butter a day and eat well. Porridge for breakfast. Lentil soup for lunch. Braised cabbage and fried eggs or broccoli and tofu in spicy peanut sauce for dinner.
But today it would be impossible to spend 20 to 25 percent of your budget on milk and prepare the kinds of meals that are imagined by writers of the Canadian Cook Book:
Forget the caramel charlotte and the orange chiffon pie - the cost of lamb chops alone would blow a family of five's entire food budget. So why did the Canadian Cook Book writers allocate 20 to 25 percent of the food budget for milk? I can only conclude that the relative price of milk must have been much higher then than it is now.
Right now there is a big to-do about supply management and the cost of milk. I get it. Milk is a lot more expensive here than in the US, and it's hard for people without a lot of money to afford good quality cheese.
I wrote this post to make a point, and an observation.
The point: Even with supply management, milk is relatively cheap in historical terms. Rent and housing in Canada's major cities is what is out-of-sight expensive.
The observation: I am willing to pay something to ensure food safety and quality. Cheap food can kill you. Now supply management is no guarantee of food quality. But let's just say that, when food quality (e.g. use of pesticides, quality of feed, nutritional content, etc) is fully or partially unobservable, there are limits to the ability of competitive markets to generate optimal outcomes.
Update: thanks to rsj's suggestion in the comments below, here is some consumer price index data. It shows that the relative price of fruits and vegetables as compared to dairy products has doubled in the US over the past 70 years. I would suspect the trends in Canada would be similar, though perhaps not quite so dramatic.