Food and consumerism are irrefutably linked and we are all slaves to the system. Today, unsurprisingly, the lowest wealth bracket suffers the highest rates of obesity; after all, good quality food just doesn’t come cheap. However, what we are experiencing today is not an anomaly. We can trace this trend as far back as the 18th century, where meat prices soared and the poorest people were left without. A working class diet consisted mainly of bread, milk, porridge, potatoes and vegetables; no meat involved. In fact, it’s ludicrous to suppose a poorer person would have access to meat when they could, at times, barely afford bread. As a result of supply and demand, a free market philosophy and poor regulation, the price of bread could rise rapidly, resulting in “bread riots”!
As a result, eating meat became a symbol of greed and extravagance and it was an act only reserved for the upper classes. The Romantic poets were outraged by the situation and saw a meatless diet as a way to distance themselves from a consumerist society.
Many poorer people were driven to workhouses in order not to starve. Ironically, they received a more balanced diet here than they were able to afford otherwise. The table below was taken from a workhouse in Hertford, 1729.