Some of you know a little of my history. I’ve had to deal with some (minor) health issues, which pushed me the rest of the way into “health” food. While my own health issues have been minor (compared to cancer), they have affected my everyday life as one of them has been adrenal fatigue. When I first started going to a naturopath, I was so tired I had a hard time concentrating on anything, including even reading a book to my 9 month old daughter.
I’ve gotten much, much better and good food has been an important part of that. But while I have quite enough money to be able to eat healthy “poor man’s food”, I’ve still been limited in budget, time and energy, so as to not always be able to afford what would be the very best for me or my family. That can be frustrating.
But here’s where reading a little history has been helpful to develop gratefulness for how good I really have it.
In “A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove” it has been very interesting to read about the history of American women and cooking (though I don’t agree with everything the author concludes, I love the book). There were times in our history, where the poor had it a lot worse than the majority of us.
Before the industrial revolution, people didn’t waste anything, out of pure necessity. If the food they stored up didn’t last until the next harvest, they would starve. Therefore, saving up and storing food was vital to survival. It is true that there were times of crop failures and starvation, but overall, I think that things got worse for a while after the industrial revolution for the poor. It was such a huge transition, it was bound to have a rough start.
I could talk about the conditions of the houses the poor working man lived in, their hard working hours, their budget. But I think that sharing a few recipes will give you an idea of their plight.
This recipe, as quoted in the book, is from Widdifield’s New Cook Book, published in 1856 (which she advertised as “practical”).
“Pare two turnips and cut into quarters; one onion into small pieces; one carrot, sliced; a spring of parsley, chopped with a few tender leaves of celery; and one dessert-spoonful of rice. Put them into a stew kettle with three half pints of water and season with salt to taste. Place it over a slow fire and let it boil until reduced to half the quantity; then take it off and strain through a fine sieve, and serve hot with a hard biscuit or dry toast.”
A dessert spoonful of rice and two turnips with a carrot doesn’t sound so very filling or nourishing to me!
One dear women, Juliet Corson, felt the plight of the poor, and so decided to write a charitable cookbook called “Fifteen Cent Dinners for Workingmen’s Families of 6”. For this she raised money to print it and gave away copies of it. It was a huge hit, so the working poor must have found it helpful.
Here is one recipe from the book for Macaroni and Cheese, which, mind you, is supposed to feed a family of 6!
“Boil half a pound of macaroni, as above, put it into a pudding dish in layers with a quarter of a pound of cheese (cost 4 cents) grated and mixed between the layers; season it with pepper and salt to taste; put a very little butter and some bread crumbs over it, and brown it in the oven. It will make just as hearty and strengthening a meal as meat, and it will cost about 12 cents.”
Juliet Corson Fifteen Cent Dinner for Families of 6, 1877.
Wow. 8 ounces of pasta, 1/4 a pound of cheese, and a little butter and bread crumbs. My family of three wouldn’t be full on that!
Yet, I know that over in England during this same time period, the poorest working man’s family were surviving on potatoes. They would have envied America’s poor.
This was definitely a rough time in the history of both England and America. Standards of living are higher now for the poor, for sure. But I know that other nations are still starving today.
It’s a humbling thought.
So while it is easy to focus on what I wish I could afford, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I have much to be grateful for. Sure, I can’t afford everything I would like. I would like to be able to afford more meat, nicer free range chickens (I buy organic, but not free range), and a weekly allowance for nutrient dense seafood, I have been given a great gift of having more than enough to fill my belly.
While I hope this site helps encourages you to eat nourishing food, and make better food choices, if you ever feel the frustration of not being able to afford the best. I am with you! It is frustrating. But, I know without a shadow of a doubt, I have so much to be grateful for and I bet you do too.