Food consumption in English towns and cities, 14th-15th centuries
Keywords:urban history, Late Middle Ages, Alltagsgeschichte, food, consumption, gluttony
This article deals with nutrition of English town and city dwellers in 14th and 15th centuries. The author argues that nutrition regime was heavily regulated by both secular and religious (e.g., during fasts) authorities. Overall, food served as yet another indicator of one's position in the social hierarchy; for this reason it was included in the so called "sumptuary laws" as well as clothing; conspicuous consumption, especially during festivities and celebrations, was also quite widespread. The town and city dwellers remained dependent on the harvest in the countryside (as the Great Famine of 1315-7) testifies. However, the general tendency pointed towards the more assorted and diversified choice of food. The main staples remained bread and ale, but the choice could be substantially augmented by fish, vegetables and fruits (often grown in the gardens and orchards within the city), sometimes poaching. Three meals a day became a norm during this period. The wealthy segment of population could also count on imported wine and exquisite poultry, while the poorest often had to rely on handouts. Additionally, it was possible to improve the flavor of the dishes with spices which became much more popular during late medieval period. The consumption of food, in the opinion of medieval Englishmen, should not be excessive because overeating leads to the mortal sin of gluttony. It became customary to have three meals a day.In general, the peculiarities of late medieval English situation merit further research, with close attention paid to the attitudes towards consumption.
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