How did people eat in the 19th century

Today we have much higher expectations of our food than previous generations. The food should not only fill you up, it should also look, smell and taste appetizing. At the same time, we expect it to be good for our health. And last but not least, the food should have a long shelf life, be easy to prepare and affordable. That seems natural to us today, but it has by no means always been the case. In the Stone Age and also among the first farmers there was only a very limited supply of food. And in the 15th century, cabbage, milk, grain and watery soup with a little lard or meat were on the menu. Read here what people ate at what time and what triggered the changes in the menu.

Hunters and gatherers in the Stone Age

In the beginning, people in Europe ate mainly raw parts of plants, wild vegetables and fruit. This could be one reason why our bodies cannot produce vitamin C themselves, as in other mammals. Because there was enough vitamin C in the fruits, so that the ability to produce the vitamin was not necessary and perhaps it was simply lost.

Humans started hunting around 1.5 million years ago. As a result, larger amounts of meat enriched the meager food supply. Grain or dairy products were not yet known at that time; these only came in when people developed into sedentary farmers.

The first farmers ate rather one-sided

Despite the cultivation of grain and the development of dairy products, the diet of the first farmers was less varied than that of the hunter-gatherers. The staple food was bread, which was baked from different types of grain. It was served with almost all dishes and for the poor it was the main component of the meal. Food was mostly cooked together in one pot. The farmers no longer had to eat everything immediately, but could also preserve food for winter or times of need. For this, the food was dried, smoked or salted. In addition to water, there was mainly wine to drink, but this was mostly reserved for higher-ranking people and monks. Beer has also been brewed. The big feasts and banquets that seem so typical of the Middle Ages, however, could only be afforded by knights and nobles.

Explorers bring new foods with them

The Age of Discovery began in the 15th century. European sailors found the sea route to India and America and brought numerous plants grown there with them to Europe. Including the potato, which was initially only used as an ornamental plant. However, it has been shown that potatoes are extremely nutritious and can also be grown on poor soil. So they ultimately led to an increase in agricultural yields and replaced bread in its importance as a staple food. Tomatoes have also become an important part of the diet. In addition, luxury foods such as cocoa and tobacco, as well as sugar, coffee and citrus fruits, enjoyed increasing popularity.

Hunger and new technologies shape the modern age

In the 18th century, at the time of industrialization, the population increased by leaps and bounds. At the same time, resources became scarce and the cost of living rose sharply. Meat was rarely eaten, and hunger spread. In order to better feed the population, the cultivation of robust grains was promoted. Corn, rice and potatoes were given an indispensable place on the menu alongside bread.

New technological developments changed the way food was made in the 19th century. Now it was possible to pack food airtight, to cool and freeze it. The invention of the steam engine made it possible for the first time to transport large quantities of food by rail. Nevertheless, the first half of the 20th century was marked by the two world wars and thus by famine and food shortages.

The modern diet: food in abundance

Today there is significantly more food in Europe than we need. Hunger and malnutrition are practically no longer an issue in this part of the world. Due to the oversupply of food, on the other hand, we have to struggle with obesity and other lifestyle diseases. The modern food industry provides us with diverse and practical foods for every need. However, these are usually processed more intensively than before. The preservation and transport options available today mean that food can be transported over long distances and often offered all year round. In addition, we get to know dishes from other countries through increasing mobility and new communication techniques. As a result, traditional eating habits are breaking more and more. This diversity gives us a lot of joy and enjoyment today. But we also have to learn to deal responsibly with abundance.