History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: 18th Century Society and Economy

Fat man Food and medicine Click here for audio

diet for poor and rich

Changes in diet helped increase general life expectancy, from 25 years old in 1700 to 35 years old in 1800. Before the 18th century, the poor ate mostly grain and vegetables, peas and beans for protein, and rarely had milk or meat. The rich, however, disdained vegetables as "animal food", and ate tons of meat. Wealthy folks often had meals with 3 fish and 3 meat courses, and gluttony and overeating was a sign of wealth.

Of the new foods introduced to Europe from the Americas (corn, tomatoes, chocolate), the potato was the most significant. It improved the diet of the poor, adding needed vitamins and starch. Believing that potatoes were for peasants only, the rich turned instead to the other new stuff: refined flour, refined sugar, chocolate. Thus the poor got healthier as the rich got sicker.

smallpox innoculation and vaccination

In 1715, a lovely woman named Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottomon Empire, contracted smallpox. It ruined her good looks, pockmarked her skin, Lady Montaguand left her without eyelashes. She also lost her only brother to the disease. She learned about innoculation from the Turks, and innoculated her own son in 1717, thus introducing the smallpox vaccine to Europe (though it required facing opposition from the medical community and needed Queen Caroline's support to get her argument heard). Smallpox was a major killer, and the innoculation consisted of putting a small amount of pus from a pox under the skin of a healthy person. This was a dangerous procedure because it made possible contracting the disease itself from the innoculation. Doctor Edward Jenner was the one who made the connection between smallpox and cowpox. In the 18th century everyone knew that milk-maids (who did their job with their cheek leaning against the cow) got something icky called cowpox, but never got smallpox. Jenner's vaccines were made with cowpox (which wasn't fatal), so vaccines instead of innoculations could be used to prevent smallpox.


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