Sunday, 28 August 2005

Adulterated food in Victorian London


Copper cooking pans

Victorian food was notoriously adulterated. Probably the most widespread of these adulterations was the addition of chalk to bread, used to whiten it. As flour was expensive, many times the bread would have a fair amount of potato flour in it, as this was cheap. Alum would also be added. This enabled cheaper, inferior quality flour to be used in the process of breadmaking.
Of course bakers were known for kneading the bread with their bare feet and considering the fact that in Victorian times people were said to have washed their feet only every two or even three weeks, I would say this qualifies as adulteration of food.

In 1860 the Act for Preventing the Adulteration of Articles of Articles of Food and Drink was passed. However, this act was optional and it was up to the local authority to decide whether they wanted to comply with it or not. One can imagine this was not very effective. A contemporary account informs us that by 1869 nothing had come of it.

Cooking was done in copper pans, which in itself could be extremely dangerous, leading to severe cases of copper poisoning. Of course, to counteract this, the inside of the pan was lined with tin so the food would have no contact with the copper. The downside to this was the fact that the tin layer wore off quite easily with repeated use and cleaning. Of course, the well to do could afford to have the pans re-lined with tin when this happened, but the poor could not, a fact that presented dire consequences on their health.

8 comments:

orangeguru said...

Are you sure british food has really changed?! I am mean, you have a naked chef and stuff like that ...

Perdita said...

hmmmm and no other country would have a naked chef if they thought they could get away with it.
In america you have to pay extra for that :)

Alterior said...

He is not really naked. It is a figure of speech.

Light said...

...and yet Victorian food was still better for you than todays fast food...

Alterior said...

How do you know? Eaten any? The recipes are good but I personally wouldn't fancy a load of chalk in my bread.

Light said...

No, neither would I. But neither am I overly keen on tumours in my burger, or GM Maize in my fries, so...

Alterior said...

Well, I wouldn't eat burgers and fries anyway but I get your point. Our food is adulterated today too, just in a different way. The effects of today's adulteration of food are much more long term than in Victorian times.
Yuk! Tumours in burgers sounds absolutely horrid...they do that?

Light said...

It's a favourite Urban Myth of mine that I love to recount as fact. Mainly cos I despise Fast food joints...