The long reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) saw many changes in society and in the health of the people. Life expectancy increased as better hygiene and medication became available, but the biggest factor was in what people ate. Can we learn anything from the Victorians?
Rural Victorians were able to eat a good variety of food, as long as they stayed sufficiently healthy to be able to grow or catch it. They were able to grow a selection of vegetables, and were sometimes paid with vegetables too. With access to land they could raise livestock for meat, eggs and milk. Those near the coasts could also enjoy fresh fish or seafood, sometimes those items which are great luxuries today.
Those in the cities were less fortunate. It was much harder to obtain fresh food and they were mostly unable to grow their own. The poorest would subsist on bread, fat and sugar for much of the time.
Exercise and good fresh vegetables were the keys to Victorian health. They ate their equivalent of the Mediterranean diet, which has proven health benefits. They had no access to the heavily processed and refined foods we know today.
In addition, excess calories were unknown to most people, and they led far less sedentary lives.
The good points of the Victorian diet did not outweigh their high infant mortality and exposure to diseases. In 2018 we are fortunate to have modern medicine, and our children have a much better chance of survival.
We are also fortunate that we don’t need to live rurally to access good food. We can all eat seasonal vegetables, good grains and correct portion sizes. Add meat once or twice a week and portions of oily fish, and we can be well on the way to eating like a healthy Victorian. Then all we need do is add our exercise.
I'm really interested in this time period (and not just from watching 'Victoria' on TV!) Victorian city life looked to be really miserable for the poor, with crowded dirty conditions and serious food shortage. Perhaps this is the origin of the longing to 'escape to the country'?
I can see society heading back to this sort of eating, just using online stores to deliver the food!