Eat Like It’s 1899


In 1899, William McKinley was President of the United States, a 50 gallon barrel of maple syrup cost $.89/pound, and the bicycle frame and motor powered vacuum cleaner were patented. But was really interests me about 1899 (and the years following up through the 1940’s) is how people ate. Just think about it for a minute…

  • In 1899 nobody had refrigerators or microwaves. So no Lean Cuisines or Frozen Lasangas for our 19th century friends.
  • People in rural areas mostly grew their own vegetables. People in cities bought vegetables from the market on a near daily basis (in fact, most of Europe still does this. That might be one reason Europe does food better than America).
  • Most people ate meat from their own livestock or from livestock nearby. Many people probably still hunted their own meat (venison burger anyone?). Although people in large cities did eat meat from factories with some pretty nasty processes (go ahead and check out Upton SinClair’s The Jungle if you don’t believe me).
  • If you drank milk, it was from your own cow or a cow nearby. Nobody in likely Oklahoma drank milk from Vermont or California. And those cows were, in all likelihood, fed grass NOT antibiotics. People in cities got milk from dairies, but they were still not using antibiotics because they hadn’t been invented yet!
  • If someone wanted cookies, ice cream, cake, or any other sweet treat, they mostly had to make it themselves. There was no expansive cookie aisle with all the flavors you can imagine AND a bakery section. You bought up some sugar, flour, eggs, etc and made it yourself. That takes a few hours. And a lot of these ingredients weren’t as cheap then as they are now. In fact, most people didn’t own ice cream makers back then, so that was a very rare treat (meaning no one in 1899 sat in from of the TV with a pint of Cherry Garcia).
  • There was no “kid food”. Dad shot a buffalo? Cool, everyone at it. Junior did not get chicken nuggets, purple ketchup, and fries instead. There was also no colored, flavored chips, no pop-tarts for breakfast, no sugary cereal, etc. Kids and adults ate the same, wholesome food.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages were far more natural. Lemonade was squeezed from lemons with sugar added. Sweet tea was home brewed. Both were likely enjoyed after a long days work in hot sun. Coca Cola was only introduced in 1886 and wasn’t very widespread, and most of its competition (Pepsi, store brand sodas, Gatorade, energy drinks) weren’t on the market.
  • Good news: beer, wine, and most hard liquors were all invented well before 1899. Although I’d avoid the moonshine people drank back then…

Now, I’m not saying everything back then was awesome. I don’t think many people ate avocados back then because they were only grown in tropical areas, yet I wouldn’t tell someone in Illinois not to enjoy some guac because they couldn’t get it in 1899. And of course, meat factories were gross back then (seriously, read The Jungle). My point is that when we look at eating patters, it’s not about sticking to one diet or another, it’s about eating real food. Vegetables that you cooked. The best (grass-fed, free range, organic, etc) meat and dairy you can find, and avoiding the crap made in a factory somewhere. It’s not that you should never have cookies or cake again, it’s that you should make them yourself, from whole ingredients. Maybe even experiment with using bananas or fruit for sweetener and mixing in some nut flours. Make your own bread – it’s a process, but you’ll enjoy it more.

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. Comment away!

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