We are often told that we, those living in such technically advanced times as the 21st century, are the healthiest people who have ever lived. Observing the world today, and being quite knowledgeable about the past, I must disagree.
Yes, we have vaccinations, antibiotics, organ transplants, and heart and lung machines. But our quality of living is much less than 100 years ago.
There are many reasons why I say this.
100 years ago:
- People ate food that wasn’t processed and full of preservatives.
- Fruits, vegetables and meats were grown locally or didn’t have far to travel.
- Things like candy and cookies were a treat for special occasions.
- Almost everything was homemade and cooked from scratch.
- Salt and sugar were used sparingly.
- People were more physically fit. Walking was an effective way to get around, and lifting cast iron cookware, for example, builds muscle.
- People could pronounce all the ingredients in their food. Nothing was produced in a lab.
- People ate smaller portions.
- Hardly anyone was overweight yet alone obese.
- Very few people died of cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
- Very few people suffered from multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia and other chronic disease.
Cook Like It’s 1917
My opinion was strengthened when I read a book called A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband available from Dover Publications. Despite its titillating title, A Thousand Ways is a cookbook, originally published in 1917.
It reads like a novel with recipes. The plot of the story is a young couple has gotten married. The wife, Bettina, is an excellent housekeeper and cook. Her friends, however, are not. Throughout the book, which follows Bettina and her husband Bob’s first year of marriage, Bettina shares with her friends a variety of tips any homemaker at the time needed to know.
The book serves as great historical research in the life of everyday individuals in the middle class. It provides a glimpse into women’s work. Yes, we know women were expected to cook for their families, but what were they cooking and how were they preparing it?
New technologies played a role in cooking in 1917. An entire chapter is devoted to buying an icebox, and much is made of the new “fireless cooker” that allows food to cook all day so it’s ready for dinner. Presumably, a fireless cooker is the forerunner of the slow cooker.
Why did it strengthen my believe that people 100 years ago were healthier?
- There are more recipes dedicated to vegetables, soups, salad and fish than there are to meat.
- The portion sizes are small.
- Breakfast was an important meal.
- Nothing artificial was ever used.
Here is a sample recipe.
1 quart sour milk
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon cream
Place thick freshly soured milk over a pan of hot water, not boiling.
When the milk is warm and the curds separate from the whey, strain off the whey in cheese cloth.
Put into a bowl, add salt, pepper and cream to taste. Stir lightly with a fork.
I’ve tried some recipes in this cookbook and my family has loved them all. I’d love to try homemade bread or sweets but they seem a bit challenging, considering I have to modify cooking times. In some cases modern kitchen equipment needs to be substituted for appliances no longer in use.
Do you believe we are healthier or sicklier than we were in 1917? Leave your comment below.
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