Discuss the Social Significance of Food in Early Modern Europe

1487 Words6 Pages
Food in early modern Europe was more than mere sustenance, but also an indicator, and a result, of social position and circumstance. The foods one ate were determined not simply by personal preference, as today, but by one’s wealth and prestige, one’s activities, and the pressure of one’s peers and society in general. Even a lack of food had social consequences; famines changed social dynamics and relations along with individual fortunes. Scarcity of food in early modern Europe was a quite common occurrence. Famines were frequent and numerous, particularly during the first half of the fourteenth century. As such, the memory and the fear of famine were ever-present and influential in the lives and relationships of early modern Europeans. As well as the obvious effects on health and nutrition (possibly even contributing to the severity of the plague ), famine had significant effects on social interactions and relationships. It underscored the differences and brought out tensions between the various social classes, between urban and rural residents, and even between neighbours and peers. Whilst dearth was ultimately caused by weather conditions leading to poor harvests, this was not always the view favoured by the peasantry. Famine may have been seen as the wrath of God, as punishment for the sins of the nation, but there was also a tendency to blame the greed of other humans: it was widely believed, and although less often true, that grain was being hoarded by middlemen to create a false scarcity and drive up prices. As a result of this belief, suspicion and violence was often directed at these middlemen in times of dearth. Localised famines and the associated tensions, such as the apportioning of blame, inevitably lead to an increase in crime and a corresponding increase in prosecutions. Theft was more than a sign of hunger; it also signalled a breaking down
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