An unsuitable and degraded diet? Part two: realities of the mid-Victorian diet


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An unsuitable and degraded diet? Part two: realities of the mid-Victorian diet

  1. 1. SERIES An unsuitable and degraded diet? Part two: realities of the mid-Victorian diet Paul Clayton1 + Judith Rowbotham2 1 School of Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University 2 NottinghamTrent University – School of Arts and Humanities, Clifton Lane, Nottingham W8 7NP UK , Correspondence to: Judith Rowbotham. E-mail: DECLARATIONS Introduction to the series issues from the nineteenth century on. These have distorted comprehensions of the usefulness of Competing interests Principal findings recent state and state-related interventions in PC provides improving the health of the nation and the In this article we use a multiplicity of sources to consultancy working-class; in particular via nutritional exhor- document food availability in the period 1850– services to a number 1900 and cross-reference this against earnings data tation based on long-entrenched assumptions that of companies in the to create a qualitative overview of the mid- the working-classes have always been unaware or food and drink, Victorian diet, backed up by quantitative data unmindful of what constitutes a ‘good’ diet unless supplement and where available and credible. Our findings reveal ‘taught’.1 In the first paper in this series, we pharmaceutical that in contrast to received wisdom, working-class reviewed the broad calorific intakes of the mid- sectors, including mid-Victorians ate a superior version of the Medi- Victorian working-class population. Here we Coca Cola Ltd, terranean diet, with a much higher consumption of highlight the main foods items available to them vegetables and fruits than has hitherto been real- and suggest how they might have been cooked in Univite Ltd, Biothera ized. The positive impact of this diet on mid- order to explore the validity of claims that con- Pharma. JR is a Victorian health is described in the last article in demn the mid-Victorian working-class diet as historian who this series, as are the implications for public health seriously lacking in nutritional benefits. We con- provides no policy and research today. centrate on what was actually eaten, based on a consultancy qualitative but detailed typical menu analysis, uti- services to anyone lizing the same range of records as for the pre- on any commercial Methods, strengths and weaknesses vious paper. In the final paper, working from basis, but provides In reaching the conclusions presented here, a care- basic nutritional biochemical principles, we corre- academic comment ful set of ‘typical’ weekly menus for the income late mid-Victorian working-class nutritional sta- to media and ranges (calculated on average family incomes for tus with the public health trends of the time. This academic outlets, households both in London and provincial urban analysis reveals that ideas about prevalent mid- including Woman’s centres) was drawn up. Although this is one of the Victorian malnutrition need to be revisited, mean- Hour, European strengths of this paper, it has proved impossible to ing that (contra Fogel)2 they were very unlikely to tabulate all these in a useful format and so these suffer from the degenerative diseases that have Social Science cannot be reproduced here in full. The main ele- dominated public health concerns since the History Conference, ments only are presented, but will be amplified in Edwardian period. etc. a subsequent book. In commenting on adultera- The working classes comprised approximately Funding tion, a close study of prosecutions for adulteration three-quarters of the Victorian population, cover- No funding or done by JR reveals that the extent of headline- ing a wide range of incomes and living standards sponsorship was grabbing harmful contamination was small, sug- though daily life was arduous and uncomfortable gesting that before the chemical industry for most. Yet contemporary reports reveal that sought or obtained developed, the normal reality was contamination many women managed their families on very lim- with cheaper foodstuffs/vegetable matter. ited incomes without exposing them to starvation or malnutrition. While today’s consumers would regard the mid-Victorian ‘poverty diet’ as unappe- Introduction to part two tising, detailed analysis of typical menus demon- Our objective is to develop our theme that serious strates its high nutritional value. Admittedly, for cultural biases have been built into popular con- the vast majority of the mid-Victorian working- cepts and public health policy regarding dietary classes the weekly food bill was a burden. Those at350 J R Soc Med 2008: 101: 350–357. DOI 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080113
  2. 2. Realities of the mid-Victorian diet Ethical approval the bottom of the income scale might aspire to nutrition which affected all classes, including the Not appropriate or spending half the weekly wage on food – some- working-classes, thanks to a better availability, inrelevant: all modern thing that permitted only a very basic diet. This quantity, of a range of foods at affordable cited is already does not reflect the whole experience of the urbanin the public domain, working-classes, some of whom enjoyed a more and all historical secure income and varied diet. Roberts has con- Victorian diet: food range data is either cluded that she was ‘doubtful if the working- classes were quite as poor as one may logically What follows is a survey of the types of foodstuffs anonymized or conclude’ from the statistics; her closer look at two available for purchase by the working-classes via untraceable Lancashire towns revealed a ‘healthier-than- costermongers, street markets and other small out- Guarantor average population existing on earnings near or lets. Estimating the precise amounts of food avail- PC below the poverty line’.3 able in Britain’s towns and cities in the nineteenth Our close examination leads to the conclusion century is something that has exercised scholar- Contributorship that even at the lower end of the economic scale, ship for some time. Looking at developments up to This series of three people ate nourishing, if dull, food. In 1877 Mrs 1850, the beginning of the mid-Victorian age, one papers was jointly Ball, very poor, with six children and drunken weakness of ‘physical supply estimates is that they conceived and husband, described her habit of getting provide information on only a few well docu-researched. JR took ‘fourpenny-worth of lean beef and onion and car- mented commodities over time’, suggesting that it primary rots’ (lean beef then at c 2d/lb) to boil, served with was probable that ‘fruit, vegetables and other responsibility for suet dumplings.4 Records of mid-Victorian omitted commodities were of growing impor- working-class housewives in the North of England tance’.10 Britain produced a large amount of food searching out both show that Lancashire women used vegetables for itself in the shape of vegetables, fruit and dairy the primary heavily in their cookery; Ross, stressing the pov- goods. The railway network (developing rapidly historical sources erty of the East End diet, writes of the well- from the 1840s) ensured that there was a greater and the relevant established use of backyards and allotments to urban availability of cheap food than ever before, secondary produce eggs, vegetables, fruit and rabbit meat, brought in from wider hinterlands to townsreferences; PC took but overlooks the way in which this home-grown throughout the kingdom: in contrast to Europe primary produce would extend and improve family and the USA,11 UK rail journeys were, relatively, responsibility for diets.6,7 There is a parallel with the post-war Soviet short enough to permit lower transport costs and searching out the system up to 1989, where official records of food prices to the consumer, as well as fresher food.12 In scientific and availability in shops have been a poor indicator of addition, there were substantial amounts of medical data. The the real Russian diet, which included a significant imported food available at affordable prices, even general tenor and dacha component. Our work for the mid-Victorian before developments like refrigerated ships from period suggests the importance of further imagi- the mid-1870s ensured an even wider availability conclusions of the native micro-studies on adult life expectancy and of produce from meat and wheat to fruits and papers (including health in towns and cities, to flesh out further our other exotica, at prices which were surprisingly the exercise of challenge to traditional assumptions about the affordable for many.13 There were, of course, times drawing up dietary nutritional poverty of the diet of the poor. when, locally (as in Lancashire with the so-called patterns and levels We recognize there are some real nuances to be cotton famine associated with the American Civil of physical activity taken account of in terms of family consumption: War), both income and imported food supplies ran which are infants up to age five were often the worst-fed short.14 Despite this, however, the consumer summarized in the individuals in a family (undoubtedly helping to society, with its markets and shops that had devel- first and second account for the high infant mortality rate); mothers oped during the late eighteenth century, ensured papers) are a joint and female children would frequently have that in towns and cities from London and Liver- effort, representing smaller helpings and less meat than the males, pool to Bristol and Glasgow, there was generally a50% input from each young and old, who were increasingly expected to very adequate supply of foodstuffs by the 1850s. be the major breadwinners.8 Interestingly, in the Working-class diets were predominantly seasonal. contributor. While late Victorian period this seems to have had nega- Bread was always in season, but potatoes were comment on tive effects on male life expectancy at a time when much more expensive during the summer, when penultimate drafts overall female mortality rates were improving due rice, lentils or oatmeal would often be used as a was sought from to a number of factors including improved man- substitute.15 Equally, other strategies were specialists in both agement of the risks of childbirth. Even so, we employed to substitute available food according to the historical and argue (with McKeown)9 that the upturn in life the seasonal availability and consequent price. scientific/medical expectancy discernable by 1861, and well- Processed foods in the modern sense of the term fields, no other established by 1871, was due to an improvement in hardly existed. J R Soc Med 2008: 101: 350–357. DOI 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080113 351
  3. 3. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine contributor was An examination of the availability of food does with broccoli, with lettuces and radishes in sum- directly or not, of course, provide an insight into what, and mer. Fresh peas were affordable from June to July, substantially how, people ate. An impression of misery is given with beans from July to September.15 involved in the by many contemporaries, but their agendas writing of these depended on such depictions. While undoubtedly a reflection of the experience of a minority it does Fruit papers or the research thereof. not, on closer examination of sources such as the Apples were the cheapest and most commonly less morally-biased records of the London Police available urban fruits, August to May, cherries Those cited have Court Mission (LPCM), reflect the usual experi- were cheap May to July, gooseberries followed, been cited where ence of the majority of those at the bottom end of then plums and greengages to late September.15,18 the contributors the income scale in a way that restores agency to Candied peel and dried fruits were always cheaply judged that their them, rather than leaving them simply as victims. available, and used to flavour desserts like bread work was relevant Talking of the London families living in one room puddings and in cakes and mincemeat. They con- and supportive, or (according to the LPCM, amounting to about 2000 stituted a favourite afternoon (children’s) snack where we wished to families in 1881) their missionaries reported the according to Victorian cookery books17 and many identify work that we ‘wonderful’ economies of such ‘one-roomed peo- other sources from Dickens to Mayhew. wished to challenge ple’ in food. One woman commented that she spent a shilling as follows: ‘Coal 1d, wood ¼ d, Acknowledgements bread 1½ d, dripping 1d; tea quarter ounce 3/4 d; Legumes and nuts We acknowledge soap 1/2 d; sugar ½ d. 6d put by for rent [and] I Dried legumes were available all year round, and gratefully the spends 3d in block ornaments (pieces of meat and widely used (e.g. pease pudding). The chestnut comments made by bone), and the other 3d for extras’. The importance was the most commonly consumed nut, being a B.J. Harris, of bread in the diet is plain, as well as that of the favourite street snack in the chestnut season, run- Professor of the dripping and tea – but her ‘extras’ will have ning from September through to January. Filberts History of Social included vegetables like onions, dairy goods and or hazelnuts were available from October through Policy, University of possibly some of the goods sold by her neighbours, to May; walnuts were another regularly bought including apples and shellfish such as whelks.16 seasonal nut. Imported almonds and brazil nuts Southampton. Any What follows is based on a series of sources and so were more expensive, but widely consumed errors now are cannot be intensively referenced. Key sources around Christmas as a ‘treat’. Coconuts were also solely the include Mayhew, London Labour and the London imported, often given as presents or won at fairs; responsibility of the Poor (especially volume 1),15 fiction by authors like commonly bought grated for use in cakes and authors. We also Dickens (including Our Mutual Friend and Little desserts.15 wish to thank Mike Dorrit), plus cookery and medical texts, along with Lean, Professor of workhouse, prison and other institutional dietar- Human Nutrition, ies (including army ones). Fish and seafood University of Herrings were some of the most important fish in Glasgow, for his the mid-Victorian urban diet; fresh in the autumn, Vegetables, root and green early input, and Paul winter and spring, dried/smoked (red herring) or Baker for Onions were amongst the cheapest vegetables, pickled/soused all year round. Red herrings were information from the widely available all year around at a cost so negli- a year-round staple of the Victorian working-class gible that few housewives budgeted what cost diet because they were easily cooked.19 Other Southwell them around a halfpenny (even cheaper if bruised, favourites were cheap and easily obtainable var- Workhouse but still nutritious) for a bunch containing at least a ieties with better keeping qualities than the more archives. dozen. They might become slightly more expen- vulnerable white fish, including sprats, eels and sive in the late spring, when leeks could be substi- shellfish (oysters, mussels, cockles, whelks). Of the tuted.15 Beetroot was consumed year-round, while white fish consumed, cod, haddock and John Dory the Jerusalem artichoke was eaten from September were preferred. Typically, and unlike today, the through to March, often home-grown as it was one whole fish was consumed, including heads and of the easiest vegetables to grow in urban allot- roes.15 Fish was available from Monday evening to ments.17 Carrots and turnips were inexpensive sta- Friday evening, with broken and day old fish or ples, especially during the winter months. eels and shoreline shellfish available on Saturdays, Watercress was a key cheap staple in the working- as fishermen did not go out over the weekends.20 class diet, available at a halfpenny for four bunches Fish and chips was not yet ‘invented’, but fried in the period April to January/February.15 Cab- ‘little fish’ (e.g. whitebait) were a favourite street bage was also cheap and readily available, along food.20,21352 J R Soc Med 2008: 101: 350–357. DOI 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080113
  4. 4. Realities of the mid-Victorian dietMeats measure). Working-class men and women seldom drank wine, but occasionally consumed port orConsumption of meat was considered a mark of a sherry.21 A third or more of such households weregood diet and its complete absence was rare: con- temperate or teetotal, partly due to the sustainedsuming only limited amounts was a poverty diet.22 efforts of the anti-alcohol movement.26,27Joints of meat were, for the poor, likely to be anoccasional treat. Yet only those with the leastsecure incomes and most limited housing, and so Adulterantswithout either the cooking facilities or the funds,would be unlikely to have a weekly (Sunday) joint. Some adulterants commonly used in VictorianEven they might achieve that three or four times a foods were well-known to be toxic even then: leadyear, cooked in a local cookhouse or bakery oven chromate in mustard, mercury and arsenic com-for a small fee. Otherwise, meat on the bone (shin pounds as colourants in confectionery and picro-or cheek), stewed or fried, was the most economi- toxin in beer all undoubtedly contributed to illcal form of meat, generally eked out with offal health. These negative effects are well-meats including brains, heart, sweetbreads, liver, documented, though the actual scale is muchkidneys and ‘pluck’ (the lungs and intestines of debated.28 In contrast, though undoubted frauds,sheep). Pork was the most commonly consumed modern nutritional biochemistry reveals that somemeat. All meats were from free-range animals. of the other common ‘adulterants’ have potentially significant health benefits. The hawthorn used to extend tea, for example, contained vaso- and cardio-protective flavonoids.29–34 The coriander inEggs and dairy products beer may have had some anthelmintic activity,35Many East End households kept hens in their back- and the watering down of beer and spirits was,yards, and Robert’s study of Lancashire suggests from a health perspective, a generally good thing!similar patterns.5 Keeping a couple of hens couldproduce up to a dozen eggs per household per Tobaccoweek, either for sale or home consumption. Milkwas widely consumed but not usually in large Pipe smoking was widespread but intermittentquantities, due to cost and adulteration fears. But- amongst working-class males, and a cigar or che-ter consumption was low due to high cost for root might be smoked on special occasions. Snuff‘good’ butter; lard and dripping were more signifi- had largely fallen out of favour, as had chewingcant. Hard cheeses were favoured by the working- tobacco amongst urban workers. The big expan-classes as a regular part of their diet. Their long sion in mass tobacco consumption by the working-shelf-life provided a stable protein source. classes did not take place until after 1883, when industrial cigarette production was introduced.36Alcohol Surveying Victorian nutritionBeer was the most commonly consumed form ofalcohol, but generally with an alcohol content sig- A revisiting of the mid-Victorian diet for the poor,nificantly lower than today’s beers. Careful read- including those in workhouses and prisons, illumi-ing of contemporary sources, including cookery nates the likely levels of nutrition of the working-and domestic economy books, suggests that the classes of the time. We do not claim that those inalcohol content of beer consumed in the home was the extremes of poverty would be likely to enjoy allprobably only 1–2%, often less as it was watered the nutritional benefits identified below: but suchdown, especially for consumption by women and extreme cases were not common in the latter half ofchildren.17,23,24 In pubs, the alcohol content of beer the nineteenth century.25 Thus it can reasonably bewas more regulated and generally higher, ranging claimed that in qualitative terms at least, thefrom 2–3%. These are still weak beers compared to dietary review discussed here provides a fair pic-today’s average of around 5%. ture of the substantial experience of the mid- Spirits were more intermittently consumed by Victorian poor. The focus is on the poorer elementsmen and rarely by women: respectability and gin of the working-class rather than elite artisandid not go together.25 Gin, rum and brandy were groups such as miners: miners’ wages, given privi-expensive, at about 6d to 1/- a glass (though this leges like low rent costs, amounted to an equiva-was substantially larger than a modern pub lent annual wage of £30–35,000. J R Soc Med 2008: 101: 350–357. DOI 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080113 353
  5. 5. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Using a wide range of primary sources (includ- ing liquor.41 Unlike today, where it is often dis- ing court reportage, prison and workhouse dietar- carded, Victorians would consume this stock in ies, memoirs, fiction and recipe books), a gravies and soups, thus improving their micronu- qualitative set of typical weekly mid-Victorian trient intake further. This holds true for fruit also. diets (c1855–1880) has been developed for urban Unless actually rotten, meat retains a consider- poor working-class families, based on broad able amount of its nutrient content; fish, especially income groups. In developing typical diets for varieties where omega 3 HUFAs are present, lose it working-class families in the various income more rapidly, rendering such fish inedible. The brackets, it must be remembered that for logistical lack of refrigeration facilities meant that meats and practical reasons, a much more organized eaten hot on any one day were almost inevitably weekly routine than exists today governed the consumed (cold) on the second day. Any more type of main dish served on each day of the week. leftovers were, due to incipient spoilage, curried or The combination of being paid on a Saturday and hashed on the third day. Spices and the higher heat absence of refrigeration facilities also impacted involved in frying the hash would disguise any directly on the weekly menu. On Sundays, the taint to the meat and lessen the chances of food main meal would commonly be a midday meal; at poisoning.42,43 In winter lack of refrigeration was other times, the main meal would usually be an less of a problem, particularly as during the day early evening affair. Cooking methods and storage fires would be either banked or out and the ambi- varied according to income levels and are dis- ent temperature in households would be low. In cussed in more detail below, but only those at the summer, however, the problems of keeping per- top end of the income range considered here ishable foods were greater. Devices such as meat- would have access to several different-sized sauce- safes kept flies away from foodstuffs, but ensuring pans. At least one frying pan and roasting dish circulation of air was the only (moderately) effec- could be expected, as well as a kettle. At the bottom tive way of preventing food from spoiling. end of the scale, a kettle, a saucepan and a frying pan or gridiron would be the maximum extent of cooking equipment likely to be found. Storage Typical food routines capacity was limited, especially at the bottom end These figures represent household incomes, of the scale, ensuring frequent purchase of small including the monies earned by wives and chil- amounts of food.1 dren. The ‘best’ and relatively most expensive meals were taken on Saturday evening and Sunday, £3.15s to £4 per week though the poorest would often buy food at the end of Saturday trading, at the cheapest possible An average family of two parents and three to four prices. Menu choices became cheaper through the children (not counting babies, which would typi- week: purchases of food would diminish in quan- cally be fed on pap (bread and milk/bread and tity as the food budget shrank, and meat would water). often only be purchased once a week, though veg- Weekly rent would be around 10/-, with etables and fruit were usually purchased and con- another 10/- for taxes and utilities outgoings, leav- sumed on a daily basis. Costers and small ing another £1 per week for transport, clothing, shopkeepers had very limited storage; trains were and other costs including coals. This permitted supplying towns and cities with fresh produce around £1.16s to £2 per week to feed five or six daily.13,37 However this had little real impact on people, two adults and the rest under 14. The nutritive intakes. The very poor might purchase kitchen facilities for a family in this income range cheaper older fruits and vegetables on the verge of usually consisted of a range or built-in oven to the edibility, but although levels of some micronutri- side of the open fire, and some top of the range/ ents (i.e. folic acid, thiamine, vitamin C) decline oven cooking capability. Thus more complicated with storage, other phytonutrients such as the phe- and varied cooking could be performed, especially nolics do not change,38 while levels of carotenoids as the fire would usually be kept up for most of the may even increase.39 As mid-Victorian produce day, if banked to a low level during working was entirely organic, it contained higher levels of hours. these phytonutrients than the intensively-grown At this level of income it would be usual to have produce consumed today.40 Vegetables were usu- a roast dinner on Sunday, eaten cold on Monday ally boiled whole. Boiling may lead to considerable with bought pickles, and cooked up in a form such leaching of water-soluble vitamins into the cook- as a curry on Tuesday. Typically a dish such as a354 J R Soc Med 2008: 101: 350–357. DOI 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080113
  6. 6. Realities of the mid-Victorian dietsteamed meat suet pudding would be served mid- cuts of meat (not always fresh) or offal plus vegeta-week, eaten cold the next day. Fish was commonly bles, particularly onions, would serve for bothconsumed on Friday and a quick meal such as pork Tuesday and Wednesday, amplified by bread aschops or fried beefsteak would be served on Satur- well as potatoes on the second day. Thursday’sday. At all these meals, vegetables (in season) meal was likely to be vegetable-based, with poss-would be an important bulking feature: not just ibly a bone stock. Cooked fish and roast potatoespotatoes but onions (because of their cheapness), were a Friday night staple. On Saturday a quickcarrots, Jerusalem artichokes and green vegetables meal, such as chops with vegetables, was usual.from cabbage to green beans. Desserts were also Desserts would be heavily fruit-based (stewed orregularly served, often fruit or dairy-based – apple fresh, according to season and condition), oftenpies, rice or tapioca puddings, stewed or fresh fruit bulked out with boiled sweetened rice or tapiocalike gooseberries or cherries, in season. Tea with because of the difficulty of producing more elabor-milk and often sugar was a common drink, with ate baked dishes.(black) coffee being served more rarely and gener- Tea was the staple drink, though black coffeeally at breakfast. Table (watered-down) beer was would occasionally be available, usually heavilyoften served, especially to men. mixed with chicory (chicory could form as much as Breakfast generally involved eggs (boiled or 90% of the coffee mixture).44 Breakfast mightfried) on a Sunday, and possibly midweek, or por- involve cooked eggs on a Sunday. Otherwise,ridge, made with milk; though by the end of the bread and/or porridge (made with water and milkweek that milk might well be half and half with at the start of the week; water only by the end)water. Bread was served, usually toasted, possibly would be the staple breakfast, often accompaniedwith butter and bought preserves like jam. Lunch by cheese and watercress. Lunch would take thegenerally took the form of sandwiches with paste, form of sandwiches made from left-overs;left-over meat, or watercress and cheese, com- although at the start of the week, when funds per-monly bought as cheap street food. Soup made mitted, street food like pies, soup or sandwichesfrom meat and vegetables, along with meat or veg- could be bought.etable pies and ham and watercress sandwiches,were street staples readily bought at this incomelevel. 18/- to £1 per week A family of one or two parents, and up to three children, excluding pap-fed babies (it is worth not-£1.17s to £2 per week ing that at this income level pap would more oftenAn average family of two parents, and three to four be water based than milk based).children (again excluding pap-fed babies). The usual weekly rental would be around 1/6d For such families, a usual weekly rent would be to 2/-, with minimal extra outgoings for non-foodaround 3/- to 5/-, with up to £1.10s for non-food items, leaving a disposable income for food of 2/-outgoings including fuel, leaving around 18/- to to 4/- maximum. Kitchen facilities were extremely£1 for food. The kitchen facilities would be more limited: often just an open fire lit for the durationlimited: perhaps an open fire with an oven which of cooking and then let out to save fuel. Lightcould be swung over, but more likely cradles and would also be minimal, again encouraging a veryjacks from which to suspend saucepans, kettles basic style of cooking. Such households wouldand the occasional joint (on the jack) and a grill on depend on pans suspended over, or to the side of,which a gridiron or frying pan could be placed. It is the fire.likely that a fire would be kept for most of the Even at this level, meat formed an importantevening, banked overnight and revived in the part of the diet, though rarely in roasted form. Themorning. In winter, it might be used at lunchtime Sunday dinner was likely to consist of a boiledto boil a kettle by either the wife or home-based meat pudding, made with mixed meat scraps,children. offal, onions and suet pastry, along with vegeta- While a meat dinner was the usual Sunday fare, bles like potatoes, carrots, cabbage or Jerusalemit was more likely to be a boiled than a roasted joint artichokes. The pudding would reappear, cold, on(which best preserves its size), especially pork or Monday, accompanied by bread and salad (oftenmutton shoulder (up to 2lb) cooked with potatoes beetroot and watercress). Tuesday and Wednes-and carrots and served with an onion sauce. The day meals would be a stew or soup based on bonessmaller joint would usually stretch to cold meat on and meat or fat scraps, plus vegetables and flourthe Monday, while a stew made from the cheapest (if lucky, suet) dumplings. Thursday commonly J R Soc Med 2008: 101: 350–357. DOI 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080113 355
  7. 7. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine featured some dish made with rice or lentils boiled convenience foods because they were affecting the with fat and onions, accompanied by bread. Friday health of all classes, not just the working-class. frequently featured red herrings at a halfpenny apiece, broiled on the gridiron, or a fish head soup (a half pound of fish heads cost a farthing), both Conclusion served with bread. Fried or stewed offal such as ox Given the review of foods and dietary patterns kidneys was a common Saturday relish. Desserts outlined above, combined with the calorific were plain, commonly dishes like stewed apple requirements calculated in the previous paper, we with breadcrumbs and ground ginger, with cur- can arrive at a reasonably accurate overview of rants to sweeten in winter. In summer fresh fruits what the mid-Victorian working-classes actually such as cherries were cheap and plentiful. consumed. Individual experiences differed Tea was the staple drink. Coffee might be con- according to personal taste and circumstances sumed at breakfast even by the poorest, but in the (regional and seasonal availabilities etc), and for form of chicory/coffee mixture. Breakfast was those at the bottom of the economic scale there will generally bread, occasionally with butter. For the have been additional difficulties due to financial poorest a sandwich of bread and watercress was instability. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges the most common. At the start of the week, por- of mid-Victorian nutrition is remarkably positive, ridge made with water might be possible. Lunch and one that matches or surpasses modern nutri- involved bread, combined with cheese if possible tional recommendations. If health benefits accrue or more watercress. At the start of the week, soup from improved nutrition, as so many recent could occasionally be bought as cheap street food. studies suggest, the mid-Victorians should have enjoyed a generally high standard of physical well- being. That this was indeed the case is strongly Extras suggested by their astonishingly high levels of For all income groups, street food lunches (sand- physical activity, as reviewed in the first paper in wiches, pies, fruit) were a regular occurrence. In this series; and is further documented in the third addition, late suppers of ‘savouries’ were regular and final paper in this series, which reviews public treats, when money permitted, especially at week- health data from the time and correlates specific ends. These including such delicacies as devilled disease patterns with the known biochemical and herring roes (fried in cayenne pepper) on toast, or physiological effects of the main elements in the toasted cheese, and were mainly for adult con- diet of the period. sumption. Why were such practical nutritional strategies References viewed with suspicion by many contemporary commentators? Partly, probably, because the 1 Akiyama Y. Feeding the Nation. Nutrition and Health in Britain before World War One. London: IB Tauris; 2008 resulting dishes looked ‘messy’ and smelt unappe- 2 Fogel RW. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death tising to more fastidious consumers, and so were 1700–2100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2004 readily (but incorrectly) labelled unwholesome 3 Roberts E. Working-class Standards of Living in Barrow and Lancaster, 1890–1014. 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