Much like most other parts of life, Victorian diet was strictly dependent on the class bracket system. The upper and middle classes had much more rich, varied diets whereas the working classes ate a basic diet as they did not have the money to spend on luxury food. However, despite this, the people of the nineteenth century were often very healthy and fit in comparison to the modern human due to the lack of processed and preserved food, and a large amount of physical labour done up until death as retirement was not possible for the majority without the welfare state. A varied diet for both classes consisted of meat, vegetables, and bread, with a lack of additives meaning that although food may not have been as tasty as modern day food, it was healthier and better for them.
During the first part of the Victorian era, choices for food were often very restricted as many struggled to import food around the Empire at an affordable price and keeping the food safe to consume was often difficult. However, during the latter portion of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution began to increase the availability of a varied diet due to the development of railways and steamships, meaning goods could be imported around the Empire and slowly became available to the Victorian people. However, a lack of technology continued to create persistent problems due to the lack of refrigeration and preservative techniques, meaning many foods were bought locally and had to be consumed quickly after buying. Therefore, this meant that the majority of Victorian’s shopped locally and frequently in order to overcome the lack of technology, that was not resolved until later in the twentieth century.
A typical working class diet, albeit basic and often bland, was nutritious and healthy. Basic foods consisted of items such as varied cuts of meats, bread, in season vegetables, eggs, cheese, flour, sugar, tea, and dripping. However, the very poor struggled more and often ate rotten vegetables or scraps of meat in order to survive, which had disastrous consequences on both the health and the growth of many lower class Victorians.
However, a typical middle and upper-class diet was much richer and varied, with more expensive, imported food becoming staples in many luxurious diets. French cuisine was fashionable and inspired many meals. Wealthy Victorian’s enjoyed showcasing their wealth to others by holding dinner parties which sometimes consisted of up to 20 different dishes in two courses, with refreshing sorbets in between meals to refresh the palate.
Furthermore, the Victorian’s introduced ‘afternoon tea’ into British culture and began to develop tea rooms in order for this to be a popular social setting for women in the nineteenth century. Dinner was eaten later than before, meaning that many Victorian’s found themselves needing a snack between meals, which is how afternoon tea quickly developed around the country.
From, The Victorian Era