Call Us: US - +1 845 478 5244 | UK - +44 20 7193 7850 | AUS - +61 2 8005 4826

Poverty and policy

The diet depended largely on social class. The rich ate meat—beef, pork, venison—and white bread, the poor ate coarse dark bread, with a bit of meat perhaps at Christmas. Everyone drank ale—water was often too impure to drink. Fruits and vegetables were seldom eaten. Rich spices were used by the wealthy to offset the smells of old salted meat. Vegetables and fruits were not popular. The potato was not part of the diet. The rich enjoyed desserts such as pastries, tarts, cakes, and crystallized fruit, and syrup.[19]

Among the rich private hospitality was an important item in the budget. Entertaining a royal party for a few weeks could be ruinous to a nobleman. Inns existed for travellers but restaurants were not known.

Both the rich and the poor had diets with nutritional deficiency. The lack of vegetables and fruits in their diets caused a deficiency in vitamin C, sometimes resulting in scurvy.

Trade and industry flourished in the 16th century, making England more prosperous and improving the standard of living of the upper and middle classes. However, the lower classes did not benefit much and did not always have enough food. As the English population was fed by its own agricultural produce, a series of bad harvests in the 1590s caused widespread distress.[20]

In the 17th century the food supply improved. England had no food crises from 1650 to 1725, a period when France was unusually vulnerable to famines. Historians point out that oat and barley prices in England did not always increase following a failure of the wheat crop, but did do in France.