Thursday, 26 January 2012

Dining in Poverty - Victorian nutrition compared to you....

I'll confess from the offset the reliability of sources from this blog is perhaps questionable at best. I am mid-way through 'At Home' by Bill Bryson (actually I'm not even a quarter of the way through but you get the idea)! On a tangent the hilarity of this book (and his others) is not questionable - buy them, buy them all damn it! Anyway, the point (highlighted by Mr. Bryson) is that the diet in Victorian times, comparative poverty to modern times was infinitely better than what you are probably consuming yourself. I (for some reason) implicitly trust Mr. Bryson to be well read (he usually he is), and his books to be as factual as possible, but I confess I haven't been through his bibliography and checked the validity of his sources.

To the point...

In 1851 the average person ate 8lbs of pears (compared with 3lbs in 2010), approximately 9lbs of grapes and other soft fruits (roughly double that eaten today), and just under 18lbs of dried fruit (against 3.5lbs). For vegetables the differences are even more striking - in 1851 the average Londoner ate 31.8lbs of onions (compared to 13.2lbs today), consumed over 40lbs of turnips or swedes (compared with 2.3lbs today), and packed away almost 70lbs of cabbages per year (compared with 21lbs nowadays). Sugar consumption was approximately 30lbs per year, approximately 1/3 of what it is today - yes that's right you likely consume in the region of 90lbs of sugar per year.

Are they eating better than you!?
I find this a little crazy that the perception of this era as a little less developed, financially more challenging, and so forth likely ate far far better than the average person today. Of course 80% of their income went on food, and because of sociological changes they spent more of their time working and we spend more of our time in leisure activities; this is expensive and so it is very likely that much of our income instead of being spent on food is spent on leisure time. Of course when you can buy something with chicken in the title from McDonalds or other fast food restaurant for 99p then why not!? Well because it's barely food, that's why not. I suppose if you're spending 99p on food then perhaps your body thinks you are living in poverty.

On a side note and purely for hilarity Bryson continues to point out perceptions of potatoes, stating that:

"..for the first 150 years or so after their introduction to Europe many people considered the potato an unwholesome vegetable because its edible parts grew underground instead of reaching for the sun. Clergymen sometimes preached against the potato on the grounds that it appears nowhere in the Bible." 

In my opinion, clergymen should likely preach against McDonalds too since there's no mention of that in the Bible. Of course we could tangent in to the direction of religion but let's save it for another time.

Be Well (and try to eat well too!)


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