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Evaluating Advertising Claims Past and Present

The Science Teacher—January 2020 (Volume 87, Issue 5)

By Michael Apfeldorf

1917 Sunshine Biscuits advertisement from The Tulsa Daily World

Image source: Tulsa Daily World, December 22, 1917.

Are crackers really more nutritious than fish? A 1917 Sunshine Biscuits advertisement from The Tulsa Daily World seems to imply as much, stating: “In these days you should know, in a general way at least, which foods provide the most nourishment. The following table, taken from a report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will give you a general idea of the energy value of various staple foods and how they compare with crackers.”

The accompanying table ranks various foods in terms of “Calories of Energy Per Pound.” Crackers, not surprisingly, deliver more energy value than any other food listed: over twice as much as sirloin beef, three times as much as eggs, and six times as much as fish!

Invite students to analyze the ad and practice their science media literacy skills. Students might ask: Who produced this ad copy, and for what purpose? To what extent is “energy value” (also known as “food value”) a legitimate proxy for nutritional value? Is comparing different food types “per pound” a helpful comparison? What did scientists and government agencies actually recommend regarding nutrition in 1917? Does this ad accurately represent current research? Lead a class discussion to explore answers and encourage follow-up student research.
Today, many consumers know better than to simply equate “more calories” with “more nutritious,” but it may also be worth reflecting on the extent to which today’s food advertising is both similar and different than the ad shown here.

About the Source

The Sunshine Biscuits advertisement shown here ( may be found on the Chronicling America website ( Chronicling America is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities ( and the Library of Congress (, which provides free digital access to historic newspapers published in the United States. The Website currently includes over 15 million newspaper pages.
Enter the terms “energy value” or “food value” in the Chronicling America search engine to find similar advertisements and articles on this topic.

Literacy High School

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