Monday, 3 June 2013

Starvation

One thing I'm really not very interested in is food. I  barely register the pictures of food on Facebook, and  when I saw the Tudor Feast coming up on tv I hesitated with my finger on the record button. Then common sense clicked in. The programme was to be modern chefs cooking medieval food in the same way as medieval cooks would have done. Apart from the fact that I bet they didn't, watching people handle food revolts me at the best of times, so I took my finger off the button.
Hygiene in those far off days doesn't bear thinking about, particularly when food and eating are involved. Some of the medical concoctions include bat excrement and the like, so if that's what they think will cure you of an ailment, Heaven knows what they cook normally.

On the other hand, people's immune systems were probably vastly superior to ours. They would need to be, for starvation was common in medieval times. If a man's crops failed, what did the family eat? They couldn't rush off to the  supermarket, didn't have the cash to buy even if said supermarket existed. Poaching was forbidden and in some cases punishable by death. Your neighbours were likely as badly off as yourself. A man might walk many miles to find work, return with food and find his family dead of starvation.  In such conditions, the temptation to eat absolutely anything must have been horrifying.

The lowest ranks of society in medieval days were no better than slaves, bought and sold with the land, and starvation was common. Religious houses, and the homes of the rich, presented kitchen scraps at the back gate for the starving poor. Once Henry VIII got rid of the monasteries, those who had once lived within the protection of the religious orders were turned loose on the roads as beggars. Enclosures took away common land, and added to the problems of the lower classes. The odd thing is that these things have never been regarded in the same light as the potato famine in Ireland, the clearances in Scotland or the African slave trade and I wonder why. Perhaps it was because they took place in a time when a social conscience was a luxury few could afford. Perhaps it is because we had no one to blame but ourselves.



2 comments:

Margaret Chrisawn said...

I had to address the issue of food since a little more than half of my manuscript dealt with campaigning, where food was an issue. A bit different, I think, than medieval or renaissance dining halls, although when those are done properly and based on real scholarship, they are a real treat. Perhaps a few bits and pieces of Matho grabbing a snack from time to time wouldn't go amiss?

Jen Black said...

Maggie! You made it! Hurrah!

You'll be happy to hear that Matho indulges in a) meat pies, gets to taste the Earl of Angus's roast beef, and enjoys a syllabub with Meg. All suitably checked and Tudorish.

Jen