The Myth of Gluttony in History

There are many accounts of feasts which involve mind boggling numbers of dishes that suggest our ancestors were gluttons but this is our view through modern practices of eating what is out before you. Here’s an abridged piece from Elizabethan Life in Town and Country by M St Clare Byrne.

“An Elizabethan dinner was not the gourmandising affair that one might carelessly imagine…accounts indicate an amazing profusion of dishes – several joints, kinds of fish, half a dozen kinds of game, venison, various salads, vegetables sweet meats and fruits. The guest .. did not work his way through this formidable menu. Rich men furnished their table in this prodigal fashion so each man could chose the food that suited him best, leaving enough for their large retinue of servants at the second sitting which followed. Gentlemen were moderate in their diet but highly esteemed both rare foods and good cooking. To ensure the latter they often employed French chefs noted for their skill. A Dutch physician wrote of their drinking: “ at their tables, though they may be very sumptuous and love to have good fare, yet neither did they overcharge themselves with excess of drink in such measure and urge others, but suffer every man to drink in such measure as best pleaseth himself.”

It is also worth noting that people needed more food in the past, especially in winter when they needed huge amounts of calories just to stay warm. Their clothing was heavy so even sitting still consumed more calories than today, and they walked a lot.

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