Feeding an expanding population

Population growth by the middle of the nineteenth century had outstripped the increased production of food and the food laws, banning the import of food had to be repealed. Food production and distribution methods lagged behind the new lifestyle imposed by the Industrial Revolution. The country people sent much of their food to the overcrowded towns where it commanded a higher price, but the slow methods of transport and poor storage meant that food was often rancid, dirty and unwholesome by the time it was consumed.

Food was often adulterated with dangerous additives in order to disguise its poor quality. Arsenic was added to flour to make it look whiter, milk was diluted and often contaminated with harmful microorganisms. As a result, legislation in 1875 made it illegal to sell unwholesome food. The situation improved as food imports arrived from other countries. Wheat from America kept the price of bread down, and as shipping and refrigeration improved, meat, fruit and dairy produce were imported from such distant places as Argentina and Australasia. The prosperity of the late Victorian era lead to further imports of luxury foods.

Nutritional improvements went hand in hand with improvements in education when it was realized that hungry children could not concentrate on their lessons. School milk and meals were provided for malnourished children. A pioneer of monitoring social and nutritional improvements in the population was Rowntree, who pointed out the high proportion of income spent on food by poor people.

The British Medical Association formulated recommendations for a nutritionally adequate diet, which was used for planning rations during wartime. Despite the frugal nature of food rations, the medical statistics showthat people were a lot healthier during those periods.

Food technology has revolutionized the food of this century. Better methods of transport and distribution, allow us to eat a variety of foods, all the year round. Better methods of preservation and processing increase the range of foods we eat, and reduce the time we spend in the kitchen. Greater opportunity to travel has led to a vast expansion in our awareness and appreciation of the food which we all eat.