How Did People Eat 200 Years Ago?

April 19, 2017

It's hard to debate this fact: people today eat very, very processed foods, particularly as compared to "the old days."

But how did people eat in the old days? We (especially we gardeners!) frequently lament how far from the land that processed Big Mac is. And many people in their 40s, 50s or older remember different eating styles from our childhoods. posted this cool article to describe what people really did eat in days gone by, up to the beginning to middle of the Industrial Revolution. During the early 19th century (1800s), though transportation, including the transportation of food, was taking hold, a majority of individuals in the U.S. and other nations continued to eat food grown locally.

According to the article:

  • Corn and beans were commonly grown crops.
  • Pork was also commonly raised. Beef for food purposes was rarer in southern latitudes, but many cows were used for milk.
  • Hunting for wild game remained commonplace.
  • Vegetables were primarily preserved either in root cellars or via pickling.

And here's something REALLY fun...retail prices in 1818 in the Washington, D.C. area:

  • Beef: $.06-.08/lb.
  • Potatoes: $.56/bushel
  • Milk: $.32/gallon
  • Shoes: $2.50/adult pair

Were the Old Days Better?

Though the average age of death was still comparatively low in the early 19th century, this was primarily due to lack of adequate medical care for diseases, accidents, or to poor nutrition overall in the form of famine or a lack of variety of food. For reference, penicillin had not yet been discovered, and the first mechanized medical instrument cleaning system - a steam sterilizer - did not appear until the 1880s.

In addition, well care and preventative care were rare even among the wealthy, and the dangers of consuming alcohol and tobacco were poorly understood.

For people who escaped these issues, a long, healthy and hearty life could be expected, and people were typically physically active to a greater extent for a longer life period than today.

The take-home lesson here: sometimes the old ways aren't better...and then again, sometimes, they are. Organic food grown in real, rich earth fertilized with natural materials can yield beautiful benefits to you and your family, inside and out. The past always has something to teach us; in this case, it's that good, healthy, home-grown food coupled with consistent medical care and exercise is a prescription for good health everyone can benefit from.





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