Victorian Butcher’s Shop c.1900
Image by brizzle born and bred
image above: Unlocated. Butcher’s Hanging Meat Display.E.1900s.
The photograph below shows the carcasses of a local Bristol butcher (name & location unknown).
It was probably taken in early 1900 and shows the freshly butchered animals made ready for sale at Christmas.
For many of the poorer families fresh meat was something they could only rarely afford so they would save up to treat themselves at Christmas.
The Victorians valued good cooking and food. However, there were great differences between what the rich and poorer people ate. The rich ate a tremendous amount and wasted even more.
This wastage was at a time when a large proportion of the population were living on bread, dripping, vegetables and tea. The diet of the very poor was terrible. The unemployed, and others with little money, survived on little more than potato parings, rotten vegetable refuse and scraps.
For the destitute, hunger often forced them to seek a place in the workhouse where a diet of potatoes, cheese, bread and gruel was provided.
In Victorian times butchers would hang their carcasses in a prominent place to to entice people into their shops.
Whereas now we eat meat within a few days of the animal being slaughtered, then it was the custom to let the meat "hang" for several days or longer.
This was said to improve the flavour.
What’s for Dinner ?
Everything in the 1950s was better, right? Everyone knew their neighbours. You could leave your bike unchained and no one would nick it. Food was more wholesome. Those were the salad days… Well, the boiled potato days, anyway. Those were the golden days before prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps, fast food, ready meals and grazing sullied the good old British diet, and the obesity epidemic took hold.
Due to the economic strain of the Second World War, food was rationed in Britain from 1940 until 1954. As tough as these times were, rationing meant people were forced to follow a lower fat, lower sugar diet. They stayed slimmer as a result and had lower rates of heart disease.
Each person was limited to the following per week: 2oz of sweets – equivalent to one bar of Dairy Milk 2oz cheese – two matchboxsized pieces of Cheddar Approx 540g meat – roughly two chicken breasts and one small steak, meaning many meals had to be meat-free Sugar, jam, biscuits, eggs, cooking fat and dairy products were also strictly rationed.
More than half of all adults in the UK are now overweight or obese. And obesity among children leapt by 25 per cent between 1995 and 2002. The Government is in despair. There have been calls to put a tax on junk food, to ban it from schools, to restrict the advertising of less healthy foods to children and even to put warning labels on food.
Much of what we eat is a part of our culture and it’s strongly influenced by the types of foods we can grow locally. So meat and dairy products, bread and potatoes continue to be important even if, for some of us, they now tend to be in the form of hamburgers and frozen chips rather than the traditional roast beef and boiled potatoes.
Although the main components of the British diet haven’t changed, what has changed is how we put them together and what we add to them.
The main constituents are still basically bread, milk, meat and potatoes. But it’s still relatively low in fruit and veg and we’re eating less fish now than we did in the 1940s and 1950s.
Here is a more detailed look at some of the changes in our eating habits that have taken place since the early 1950s: During the Second World War people were encouraged to drink milk because of its high nutritional value, and this was particularly important for children. Our high consumption of milk continued until the mid-1970s, but since then we’ve been drinking less milk.
This is partly because other drinks, and particularly soft drinks, have become more popular. But the good news is that we’re now choosing more skimmed and semi-skimmed milk than whole milk.
While we’re eating about the same amount of cheese and cream as we used to, yoghurt has been increasing in popularity since it became available in the 1970s.
The number of eggs we eat peaked in the mid-60s and has been declining since. We now eat less than half the number of eggs we ate in the mid 1950s and 1960s.
When the Queen was crowned in 1953, food rationing was still in force, supermarkets were unheard of, and fish and chips were our undisputed national dish. How things have changed. But is our diet more healthy now than it was then?
The 60s were also the period when the British began their long-held love affair with shopping, as supermarkets and shopping centres were built. For many this transformed the weekly shop. But for some, there simply wasn’t the money to go on a spending spree.
The 1960s is renowned for being a decade of change, with different foods and cooking habits being introduced into the kitchen.
As people started to take the first package holidays, inspiration was brought home in the form of dishes like spaghetti Bolognese.
The gradual growth of Indian and Chinese communities, and the subsequent arrival of Indian and Chinese takeaways and restaurants, heralded the beginning of British people’s taste for these cuisines.
But fish and chips remained the nation’s favourite dish.
From the 1970s we began to eat less vegetables despite the fact that the birth of freezers meant that choice was no longer limited by season. Red meat was dished up on a regular basis, with the average person consuming 450g per week compared to just 247g today.
Fruit juice was a healthy arrival but only 12% of people drank it in the 1970s, whereas today the average person has 303ml per week.
For the first time, in 1974, the large sliced white loaf began to be sold in plastic bags, so waxed paper was on the way out.
Smash, the instant dried mashed potato, was immortalised in a TV advert in which creatures from Mars laughed at the idea of digging up potatoes from the ground, peeling them, then cooking and mashing them.
But now Smash itself is old-fashioned compared to the revolution in convenience foods that has come since.
The 1970s was also a decade of high inflation and economic uncertainty. Fluctuations in world trade led to a sugar and paper shortage in 1974, while strikes led to occasional disruption of supplies to some shops.
Frozen food became more widely eaten as the number of homes with freezers grew rapidly.
Two out of five households owned a freezer by 1979. New products were developed, such as boil-in-the-bag fish, though not all innovations survived the test of time.
Ready-prepared frozen foods, such as lasagne, chicken korma and gateaux, became popular.
Spending on food was down to about a quarter of the average family’s income. But the shopping revolution continued.
Supermarkets grew bigger, and more superstores began to appear, driving out local shops.
The growth in car ownership encouraged people to do a large shop once a week, so large car parks had to be provided.
The number of grocery stores continued to fall, from almost 150,000 in 1961 to only 60,000 in 1981.
The number of people taking foreign holidays continued to grow, fuelling interest in dishes from abroad. Sainsbury’s recorded growing demand in its stores for pizzas, fresh pasta, German bio-yoghurt, extra virgin olive oil, French bread and American ice cream.
A second wave of Indian restaurants was set up, partly stimulated by the independence struggle of East Pakistan that led to the setting up of the state of Bangladesh.
The trends towards more cosmopolitan eating were partly blamed for the decline in popularity of school meals.
Children wanted more choice and snack foods were competing with the meat and two veg on offer in the school dining room.
The golden age of school dinners came to an end in 1980. Local authorities were no longer required to provide meals for all children, though many continued to do so.
The authorities’ only duty was to provide free school meals for children from families with low incomes.
When Delia Smith first graced our TV screens, home cooking was declining but she wanted to get British people back in the kitchen by demonstrating basic cookery techniques. Since then, the enduring popularity of her no-nonsense approach has taken her career from strength to strength.
People became more health conscious in the 1980s. Pasta, which is low in fat and a good source of carbohydrates, really took off.
It was also the decade of speed – the birth of the microwave meant that meals could be ready in minutes.
In some ways this was a decade of contradictions: on the one hand we saw the popularity of delicate nouvelle cuisine and yet this was also the decade that the hamburger took off in the UK.
Today we can literally eat a different nation’s cuisine every day of the week.
The influence of Thailand on our food, for instance, can be strongly felt and people in Britain have developed a real taste for the aromatic flavours of Thai-influenced cuisine.
But alongside the growth in international cuisine, it’s interesting to see the revival of old British favourites with a contemporary twist – traditional sweets such as bread and butter pudding, and even offal dishes, are emerging on restaurant menus.
The potential is there to eat healthier than ever before – it’s just a matter of choice.
Classic dishes such as toad in the hole, bubble and squeak and hot pots are dying out are diasppearing from the family dinner table.
Bread and dripping was popular in the interwar years, especially among poor families hit by unemployment. Such families could not afford to waste any food, including the by products of any meat they were lucky enough to be able to buy. Dripping could also be bought at the butchers. Old-fashioned chip shops used to fry their chips in beef dripping. Today it has fallen out of favour as it is considered very unhealthy.
It’s fair to say tripe doesn’t have the best of reputations. It may have very few calories and be packed with more protein than a piece of steak, but there the attraction ends for many.
Few would relish the thought of tucking into a plate of gelatinous cow’s stomach – no matter how well disguised.
Top foods for dinner 50 years ago
1. Stew and dumplings
2. Liver and onions
3. Toad in the hole
4. Bubble and squeak
5. Hot pot
6. Jacket Potatoes
7. Oxtail soup
10. Cornish pasties
Top foods for dinner now
1. Roast dinner
2. Jacket potatoes
3. Spaghetti Bolognese
8. Fish and chips
9. Pasta bake
10. Stir fry