You see Jamie, who is clearly a man who struggles with not eating enough to feed the Five Armies, appeared in the Guardian this weekend claiming that the real issue with trying to get families to eat healthily is as old as the industrial revolution:
|The Observer, 3rd June 2018, "Jamie Oliver: I like to laugh and that's all that matters at my age". Good job, really.|
The industrial revolution did not hit harder and earlier in Britain, it fucking STARTED here. Nor was it the first recorded time that families went out to work. There is this ridiculous idea that before the age of machines, the common folk of Britain were like Summerisle, all folk tales and flowers, dancing and singing, romping in fields. The picture of health, the picture of idyll. And then came machines, all steam and smoke and the RUIN OF MANY A POOR BOY. It's a lovely idea, and complete horseshit.
If you were in the lower ranks of British society at any point in the last thousand years, you worked. You got up with the sun, you put in a fifteen hour day, and then you went to bed, interspersed with an awful lot of bread. Men? Ploughing. All fucking day, dawn til dusk, ploughing. Women? Everything else. Making fabric, making and fixing clothes, feeding animals, making butter, making bread, making cheese. All this in addition to childcare, education (because how else would children learn all these life skills?), cooking and cleaning.
The difference wrought by the Industrial Revolution is that suddenly, women went out to work. Rather than working at home, or on lands they had some right to, women were employed in mills, in foundries, at coal faces. The idea that women gave up work on marriage to cook and clean and sew is a fallacy - in industrial centres, they kept on working. Pregnant? Working. Maternity rights? Lol, no. Maternity leave? Nope - you were expected to be back at work within days of delivery or you lost your job. After all, there were plenty of other women happy to take it.
Outside of major industrial towns, unmarried women worked in domestic service, and married women worked at or around the home: lace making, straw bonnet making, cleaning jobs, laundry work, nursing and maternity services. Some of these jobs (particularly lacework) earned them more money than their husbands, especially in rural places which mainly relied on agriculture, like Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. And these women would be churning out a child every eighteen months or so. The average family size in the 1840s was eleven children. It had gone down to seven by 1911.
So Jamie, in his infinite wisdom, thinks that these Original Hardworking Families used acquired or innate knowledge to feed their children well. At least, that's what I think his point is, with the follow up about 'fairly humble communities'. LOL. Nope.
A woman working in a factory who had a child had no hope of being able to sustain breastfeeding. If she was fortunate, she might be allowed to bring her baby into work for the first few weeks - I found a great, if terrifying, tale of a woman blacksmith working in the Black Country who rigged up a cradle attached to her smithing apparatus, so she could rock the baby without leaving work. But ultimately, it wasn't going to work, and these babies were fed on cows milk if they were lucky, and cornmeal mixed with water if they weren't. Cows milk was likely to pass on tuberculosis, if the unsterilised bottles didn't give the baby dysentery. Cornmeal and water is not exactly a beneficial diet without any supplementary milk. The baby would typically be left with a day nurse, often an infirm female relative or an older child, and often fed opiate based medication to keep it quiet - hungry babies cry a lot. This combination of mild neglect, overmedication and poor diet was the principle cause of the horrifying infant mortality that blighted the nineteenth century.
A woman working away from town had slightly more chance of keeping her baby with her and well fed, unless the poor thing happened to be born at a time when the women all went into the fields to work. A study of rural Kent (Microhistories by Barry Reay) showed a surge in infant deaths coincided with harvest time, most likely because of unsterilised bottles and improper childcare.
But they knew how to cook? Right? They could cook? Yeah? Pukka?
A girl who was raised working in mills, from around six years old, would not learn to cook. She might see her mother cook, but it's as likely that she grew up in a house with no kitchen.
No kitchen!?!?, I hear Jamie cry, clearly having had visions of every house being like Bob Cratchit's at Christmas, copper aglow, turkey bought with careful savings. The problem is that Bob Cratchit was reasonably well off for a working class lad - born in approximately 1810, he could read and write well long before compulsory schooling was introduced, and had the connections to get him a job for a banker.
A kitchen was a waste of space for most poor factory workers, living in a few rooms of a shared house. They might have access to a kitchen, they might equally not. Their food would have been bought from day to day, and mostly consisted of bread, oatcakes, cheap fatty bacon offucts, and thin porridge. The occasional meat pie would bulk it up, once the man of the house had his share, and fuck knows what the meat pie seller had used to fill it with. These children's main meal might be part of their daily wages, and consist of little more than some oatcake eaten while working. Yum! Better that than some Frosties, eh Jamie?
A girl who went into service did so at around eleven years old. She might learn to cook from the housekeeper. She might teach herself to cook. She might already know how to cook if her mother had taught her. She could take these skills into a marriage. But if, as many did, she lived in rural areas, their food budget would depend on factors as fickle as the crops, the weather, and the whim of the landowner. Bad harvest? No money. Crop failure? No money. Too much labour? No work, no money. If you cannot afford fuel, what are you supposed to eat? A bit of corn stolen from the land, a few potatoes grown in the garden, it amounts to nothing without the heat to cook it.
And then, consider the motherless children, which considering the high mortality rate in childbirth were manifold. Those men who couldn't marry quickly sent their children to other family, or the workhouse. And if food was bad out of the workhouse, it was diabolical inside it.
There was no golden era where working women could fit in a fifteen hour working day, come home and cook a nutritious and cheap meal for their kids from scratch. It has never been a thing. I suspect what Jamie is thinking of is the early twentieth century, when women not having to work once they married was a badge of honour. And with the development of labour saving devices like economic ovens, twin tub washing machines, and the ilk, women had time to cook. The Book of Household Management was a ubiquitous wedding gift for the new brides of the 1920s and 1930s, full of useful recipes, among other slightly aspirational articles on how to get ready for new babies, how to diagnose a rash, and how to accept a wedding invitation. This was a luxury compared to their grandmothers' married lives.
We cannot compare our working lives today to those of 250 years ago. We don't go to work hungry and half expecting to die. Our children don't have to go to work to earn their keep at six years old. We have proper maternity protection and are unlikely to die in childbirth. We have PENICILLIN for god's sake. But we still don't always have the time to spend four hours in the kitchen after everything else, whether it's a full day at work, or whether it's a full day of juggling children. Or both.
Jamie Oliver needs to take a day off. Or better, Jamie Oliver needs to get up, make all his kids fucking granola or whatever he thinks they should be eating instead of Frosties, make their healthy lunch boxes, do a twelve hour hospital shift, go home, cook his kids a meal from scratch, do their homework with them, get them to bed without resorting to opiates but also in time enough to make sure they get enough sleep for school, and do this for seven days. I look forward to his findings.