The potato eaters

nationaalarchief.nlThe famous painting of van Gogh. Never knew it had to be taken so literal as painted. Yes, we love our crisps, chips, fries, mash and “stamppot” as part of our voluntary preferences. But a 150 years ago the potato was eaten out of necessity. The 19th century was not exactly a century of abundance in food for the great majority of the Dutch (and European) population. Indeed, potatoes and nothing but potatoes was the ‘cuisine’ three times a day, in very poor households with vinegar or mustard, and at the slightly better off with lard.

Different food historians have pointed to the fact that the average man in the middle ages had more access to meat than his 19th century fellow. It shows again that there is no such thing as linear progression to civilisation and welfare. Growing cities, crop failures, animal diseases, rising prices of wheat, in short a century of continuously repeating food crisis. Sounds familiar? Nowadays it is the poor in other parts of the world who pay the price.

2 thoughts on “The potato eaters

  1. Thank you for pointing out that as society as a whole becomes more affluent that this does not necessarily bring about better food or health for all. Of course conditions in my country, the USA, prove this beyond any doubt.

    The answers are out there that we need to save ourselves and the planet. Will we heed them in time?

  2. Hi Mark,

    Yes indeed, and history has many valuable lessons. I can recommend Carolyn Steel’s book Hungry City. We definitely need more people constructing ‘organic edible paradises’ as your friend does. Thanks Petra

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