Factors That Limited the Food Choices
Turner (2014) tells the story of the life of working-class Americans and their diets at the turn of the century. It is noted that money was one of the crucial factors affecting food choices working-class people made. At the same time, there were other aspects that shaped their choices. For example, the diet of working-class Americans depended on the season. Thus, in summer and autumn time, people consumed a significant amount of vegetable and fruit, which were affordable as they were produced in farms or even in people’s gardens. However, in winter and spring, people could not afford to buy these products as they were far too expensive.
Instead, they were eating canned vegetables and fruit. Another factor is the locality. Those who lived in the countryside or closer to farms (or had their land a garden or some area where they could plant vegetables) usually ate more vegetables and fruit than those who lived in cities where these products were more expensive due to delivery costs. Finally, working-class people had to work long hours to provide for the family. Notably, women also worked in the majority of the household. Thus, women had limited time to prepare foods and, hence, they could not buy and cook more varied food.
Ways Working-Class Americans Get Their Food
Wealthier Americans tended to buy everything they needed. They did not bother about better bargains or growing their food. In contrast to these people, working-class Americans tried to minimize their expenses. As has been mentioned above, apart from buying food, working-class people tried to grow vegetables and, if possible, to have some poultry (which was not difficult to feed).
People also had to prepare canned food for themselves and the availability of jars at the end of the nineteenth century facilitated this process. It is necessary to note that working-class and wealthier single men used similar options when it came to lunchtime. Single men often went to bars (wealthier people went to restaurants) and bought food there. However, there is a significant difference as wealthier men could afford substantial meal while working-class men bought some drink and obtained access to free snacks (which were not as refined as meals in restaurants).
Processed Food as a Godsend and a Curse
It is possible to state that industrialized food was both a Godsend and a curse for working-people class. On the one hand, it was a great opportunity to save time and money. People could spend less time preparing meals and work longer hours. Besides, they could move to urban areas as food supplies were appropriate there, and they did not have to live in rural places to have more affordable food. Importantly, there was not much work in rural areas. The price for this type of food was smaller as the development of technology-enabled food producers to reduce costs significantly. Therefore, working-class people benefited from the development of processed food.
On the other hand, this type of food was less nutritious and less healthy (or even harmful). Eventually, people understood that food could negatively affect their health. It is noteworthy that such concerns led to the development of a variety of standards, but they were not common in the first part of the twentieth century. Therefore, people consumed products which deteriorated their health without even knowing it. Afterward, people were able to make their choice and decide to what extent they valued their health.
Turner, Katherine Leonard. 2014. How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working-Class Meals at the Turn of the Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.