Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The return of bad food?

When people think of returning to a period of simpler less complicated times, they often seem to imagine some bucolic rural setting with people enjoying the fruits of their harvest.  A return to the 19th century.

So maybe we should look at 19th century food: English food to be exact.

We will start with an older Paul Krugman editorial about modern English food

Paul Krugman, MIT (hat tip: MR)

For someone who remembers the old days, the food is the most startling thing about modern England. English food used to be deservedly famous for its awfulness--greasy fish and chips, gelatinous pork pies, and dishwater coffee.

And what was the starting point of this awful food?  Victorian England.

A good guess is that the country's early industrialization and urbanization was the culprit. Millions of people moved rapidly off the land and away from access to traditional ingredients.

Worse, they did so at a time when the technology of urban food supply was still primitive: Victorian London already had well over a million people, but most of its food came in by horse-drawn barge. And so ordinary people, and even the middle classes, were forced into a cuisine based on canned goods (mushy peas!), preserved meats (hence those pies), and root vegetables that didn't need refrigeration (e.g. potatoes, which explain the chips).

A History of English Food, Clarrisa Dickson Wright

Victorian street food was a huge industry. In the north you would find tripe sellers; I remember the one in Dewsbury market that sold nine different varieties of tripe, including penis and udder (which is remarkably like pease pudding). Another popular street food was pea soup with, according to where you lived, either pig’s trotters or bits of ham chopped up into it. Peas boiled in the pod and served with butter were similarly popular. Stalls known in my youth as whelk stalls also sprang up, selling jellied eels, whelks, winkles and prawns, all by the pint or the half-pint. You could splash a bit of vinegar on them and eat them at the stall or take them home with you.


Humble wife said...

I am unable to come up with any comment! I suppose I am happy that I have a diet more of southwest USA that consists of chicken, rice, and beans!


russell1200 said...

LOL- I am not sure which will take the words out of your mouth more- the British modern or Victorian food.

Chicken, rice, and beans in the Southwest? Really?

I lived down in Low Country (Coastal Plains of) South Carolina for a while. It is the territory of the Rice Planters (the earliest group of super wealthy in the U.S. Colonies), they eat a lot of rice, but not so much the beans. Tends to be a jambolya-like affair: but maybe not as spicey.

Degringolade said...

Guy: Lat time I looked, our food here in the USA for the unwashed masses was about as appealing as the foods you discuss.

Anyway...Try reading the Archdruid's serial novel: Stars Reach

I like it just fine and it is set around 400 years out

russell1200 said...

Thanks D.


I looked at his site and yours before looking at my own comments. As you will see I found it just a moment ago.

I am not entirely thrilled with the JMG's (holier than though?) anti-automobile kick. I understand his point, but we all cannot make a living going to Druid conferences, and writing books. He is smart enought though that I am sure he is aware of the irony of him complaining about the Magic (thaumaturgy) of modern marketing, while he markets his own works.
What people eat, and what is available however are two very different things. I had roomates in the distant past that the unavailablity of twinkies would disrupt one of their major food groups. But for those who choose, there are a lot of inexpensive (and expensive) alternatives. Most people just prefer not to take the time to fix them.