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MAJOR DIETARY CHANGES IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPE VINCENTJ. KNAPP* While there is still a great deal of research to be done on eating patterns in the past, from the evidence accumulated so far it is safe to say that most Europeans entered the nineteenth century as primarily grain eaters. Virtually every other food available, it would seem, fell into the category of luxury items. Luxury foods like meat, fish, cheese, eggs, vegetables, and fruits were readily available to the upper reaches of society, but the great majority of Europeans ate them on a very, very limited basis [I]. We still do not know for sure to what extent vegetables were consumed before 1800. But one thing is definitely clear—most artisans and peasants in European society up to 1800 had to consume breadstuffs morning, noon, and night. This overdependence on a single staple item by the many is becoming a well-documented fact. In his social history of Paris under Louis XIV, Leon Bernard tells us that the city's artisans subsisted on "black bread and water" and that the working class largely lived "on the edge of starvation" [2]. One hundred years later, at the time of the French Revolution, the artisans of Paris were still obviously meatless. According toJeffrey Kaplow, their diet was now primarily soup and bread, along with water [3]. Rural elements were likewise poorly off, most of them rarely consuming meat or other sources of protein. Speaking of the Irish peasantry in the 1690s, Sir William Petty commented, "As for flesh, they seldom eat it" [4]. Other observers of the time, including the famous English student of dietetics, Dr. William Stark, knew that the masses were grain eaters and starved for other foods. Writing in 1788, Stark remarked, "I learned that many of the poor people near Inverness [Scotland] never took any kind of animal food, not even eggs, cheese, butter or milk" [5]. When the grain crop failed, as it did in the late 1780s in France, the results, in the words of ?Professor of European History, Department of History, State University of New York at Potsdam, Potsdam, New York 13676.© 1988 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/88/3102-0573$01.00 188 I VincentJ. Knapp ¦ Diet in Nineteenth-Century Europe another contemporary, A. A. Parmentier, were predictable; he spoke of the "frequent severe attacks of scarcity and even of famine, felt in France" [6]. That dire impression has been confirmed by one of France's leading contemporary social historians, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. He estimates that before 1789, 30-40 percent of the French population was permanently suffering from malnutrition, and in some regions the figure was 60-70 percent [7]. Like the artisans and peasants of twentieth-century Asia who are rice eaters, the mass of Europeans in this bygone era had to consume cereal crops, mainly in the form of barley, rye, oats, and wheat. The great dietary changes of nineteenth-century Europe changed all that, and these unprecedented nutritional changes are being documented as never before. Europe's agricultural revolution did not really transform the eating habits ofthe aristocracy and upper middle class all that much; they had always eaten sumptuously. But, it did revolutionize the diet of the majority of the population. As the nineteenth century unfolded, per capita levels of grain consumption began to decline in favor of a variety of other foods [8]. The immediate nutritional consequence of this was that average Europeans were able to give up their almost total dependence on carbohydrates, which had prior to this time left them with "little fat and with small and often minimal amounts of protein" [9]. The first new food introduced to the masses in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the potato. While not necessarily high in protein, nutritionally the potato proved to be a vital addition to the diet because it contained vitamin C, which functioned both as a critical coenzyme and as a reducing agent, and because it contained some very important minerals [4]. Europeans had successfully resisted this helpful food for nearly 300 years before finally accepting it, almost universally, by the year 1800. The potato made...


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