Adul­ter­ated food

Your Family History - - Food, Glorious Food! -

In the Vic­to­rian pe­riod, adul­ter­ated food was ev­ery­where, and noth­ing was as it seemed. For in­stance, bread of­ten con­tained ground bones, plas­ter, lime and pipe- clay; alum was also added to in­crease the weight and add white­ness, but it fre­quently caused se­vere in­di­ges­tion.

Adul­ter­ation was ev­i­dent in many other foods, too. Con­fec­tionery was bright and at­trac­tive be­cause po­ten­tially lethal salts of cop­per and lead were used to colour it. Beer was di­luted and adul­ter­ated with vit­riol and coc­cu­lus in­di­cus, which could cause con­vul­sions, gas­troen­teri­tis and over-stim­u­late the re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tem.

Un­til 1875, there was very lit­tle con­trol over the food and drink sold to the pub­lic. Un­der the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, passed in that year, in­spec­tors had the power to sam­ple food and drugs, and to test them for adul­ter­ation. This was the be­gin­ning of trad­ing stan­dards leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect cus­tomers.

By the 1890s, a clear link had been demon­strated be­tween diet and health. Reg­u­lar re­ports were made by the Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health for each par­tic­u­lar area, and they pro­vide de­tails about health and dis­ease, in­clud­ing food stan­dards. The Na­tional Ar­chives of Scot­land holds Scot­tish re­ports from 1891-1972; lo­cal record of­fices and health ser­vice ar­chives also have re­ports for var­i­ous years but there is no com­plete run. Check the Scot­tish Ar­chive Net­work for avail­abil­ity ( www. scan.org.uk).

You can also view more than 29,000 Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health re­ports from across Bri­tain on­line ( https://ar­chive.org/de­tails/ med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health re­ports ). The Well come Li­brary’s fan­tas­tic digi­tised re­source Lon­don’s Pulse: Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health re­ports 18481972 is worth look­ing at if your an­ces­tors were from the Greater Lon­don area ( https:// well­comeli­brary.org/moh/).

The poor diet of the work­ing classes con­tin­ued to be a cause for con­cern up to World War 1. In Maud Pem­ber Reeves’ Round About a Pound a Week (1913), ‘Mrs B’ was a typ­i­cal work­ing- class woman with three chil­dren and ‘a care­ful hus­band’. In 1911, af­ter pay­ing rent, coal, gas and other bills, the fam­ily had only 10 da week, or 1 da day, per head, for food.

Be­tween 1916 and 1918, 2.5 mil­lion men con­scripts were med­i­cally ex­am­ined, and al­most half were con­sid­ered un­fit for ser­vice be­cause of ill-health. This led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Min­istry of Health af­ter the war. Iron­i­cally, ra­tioning dur­ing World War 2 would leave the na­tion fit­ter and health­ier be­cause of bet­ter knowl­edge about nu­tri­tion.

The poor diet of the work­ing classes con­tin­ued to be a cause for con­cern up to World War 1

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