Beware of fresh fruit !
Rich in vitamins, fibre, minerals and water, fresh fruit is the health food par excellence. To be consumed without moderation! Yet, from ancient times until the Renaissance, fruit was considered indigestible, or even toxic, as it was believed that it decomposed in the stomach much as it rots when left exposed to air. To eat fruit completely safely, doctors recommended that it be stewed or cooked with other ingredients.
Rich and poor have different stomachs
Louis XVI, who supported the efforts of Antoine Parmentier to popularise the cultivation and consumption of potatoes in France in the 18th century, thanked him for “inventing the poor man’s bread”. Since the king’s own – noble – stomach preferred bread made with wheat flour, this little comment was a reminder that the digestive systems of rich and poor had to be nourished according to their “nature”: rough foods (turnips and other root vegetables, chestnuts, rye, etc.) for the latter, delicate dishes (game, fish, wheat, honey, spices, etc.) for the former. This association between social classes and the ability to digest emerged in the Middle Ages and persisted until the 19th century.
The miracle of alcohol
The mastery of the distillation process in the 12th century led to the birth of one of the first foods to be considered particularly good for people’s health: eau de vie, a liquid with miraculous and contradictory properties, as it both burns and prevents decomposition at the same time. An elixir of long life, aqua vitae was a medicine prescribed to the rich for all sorts of ailments, as well as to promote long-lasting beauty. Once the secret of its manufacture came to light in the 16th century, eau de vie also became the common “treatment” for the poor. That is, until the medical profession realised, in the 19th century, the harmful effects of alcohol addiction, a scourge that ravaged the working classes in particular.
Eat sugar : it’s high in calories and cheap !
“We all know that sugar is not an unnecessary luxury, but the most economical and healthy of foodstuffs.” This assertion seems to border on heresy nowadays, but in 1930 was widely shared by the population and the French media and continued to be so right up until the late 1950s. At the time it was believed that only the caloric content of a food mattered. Sugar, billed as having three times more calories than a steak but being ten times cheaper, appealed to households that, during the inter-war and post-war period, were on the lookout for the slightest saving.