Is there really no good diet data from the 19th century?


(BuckRimfire) #1

One point made by Gary Taubes early in Good Calories, Bad Calories is that mid-20th century axe-grinders like Ancel Keys were able to convince everyone that meat/fat consumption had increased rapidly in the early 20th century. Taubes says this is difficult to dispute due to poor records of the “standard” diet 100 years earlier (or something much to that effect).

One area in which I would think there might be fairly good records of what constituted a normal diet would be in US military procurement. What were the cadets at Annapolis or West Point fed? What did the Officers’ Mess at US Army or Navy bases purchase? Are there really no existing records of procurement for these purposes from, say, the 1870s or 1880s?


Well we do have data about what people ate in the 19th century, but your basic assumption that soldiers were given the Best Diet is erroneous. Hard breads and rations were the fare for common soldiers during the Civil War (not counting plundering) and they were pretty sad to look at. The 19th century in general is a pretty poor century to look at for great diets due to so many factors and upheavals around this time, in America at least.

(BuckRimfire) #3

I’m specifically referring to the Officer’s Mess at major bases in peacetime. I would think that whatever they were eating would have been roughly what was considered an “ideal” diet for the day, since the officers must have been at least somewhat influential in determining what they got to eat. People of the rank of Colonel or Commander were not exactly powerless in the system, so I doubt they were persistently underfed. Or did they simply not live on the base?

(Bunny) #4

Try Colonial then work your way down?

During the Revolutionary War more soldiers died from disease (malnutrition & pathogens?) than from combat.

”…Feeding Revolutionary War Soldiers. Officially, soldiers were to be issued daily rations that were to include meat (often beef or pork), bread (often hardtack), dry beans or peas, and a gill of rum or beer. Salted and dried foods were necessary because there were no other practical means of food preservation. …” …More

(Full Metal Keto) #5

I would think that there was more variation of “standard diet” in the past. Economics and localities probably had much more influence on what people included in their diets back then. Also people didn’t have big brother telling them what was healthy to eat, so even more variation. Men out west, cattlemen for instance probably ate very little vegetables where a farmer ate a lot of them. Richer people could afford beef steaks, and others lived on bacon, grits, beans, biscuits and game meat when available.

(Dawn O Miller) #6

Three Squares: the invention of the American meal written by Abigail Carroll, published in 2013 (so years after Good Calories, Bad Calories) is a book I’m currently reading to get an idea of how the American diet changed with the advent of colonialism. I’m only part way through, but essentially earlier settlers were predominantly plant-based, due to the lack of agriculture structure and lack of knowledge of the terrain and what to eat. In about 100 years they switched to a predominantly meat-based diet, where it was common practice to eat 2 different meats in one meal setting. Abigail Carroll gets a majority of her data from the recipe books published in those eras and reading the journals/letters of people from that time. It’s a very interesting book, highly recommend it.

(charlie3) #7

I have a hand written 19th century recipe book. What I recall is the dishes were heavily loaded with fat. The book is in an archive and I can’t find it. I’ll get another chance this summer. If it turns up I’ll photograph pages and put them here. I looked at the recipes years ago. What I remember is fat, fat, and … did I forget to mention fat.

Probably look at the main dishes, not the deserts.

(BuckRimfire) #8

I had a copy of Lobscouse and Spotted Dog a few years ago that I picked up off the remainders table at Buns and Noodles. It’s a cookbook modeled on Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin novels, so the dishes are supposed to recreate the fare of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I loaned it to a coworker a couple of years ago. Maybe I’ll ask for it back, but since I’m specifically interested in the American diet of seven or eight decades later, it’s not quite on point.
When I had it was before I knew about low-carb diets. About all I remember is that the desserts seemed to consist primarily of tallow combined with a bit of flour and some dried fruit, put in a crock covered tightly with cloth and boiled for hours.