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Is your diet worse than a medieval peasant’s?

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This video series concerned with all things medieval takes a look at dietary class differences in the Middle Ages.

A delicious salmon dinner served with multi-grain bread, a side of spiced mashed peas, and of course a mug of beer. This sounds like a delightfully modern meal that could really rack up the bill at a fancy restaurant, but in medieval England, this was the food of the common man, the working class poor, or anyone who would be identified as a part of the peasant class.

Period pieces made for television or the theater often portray medieval peasants as subsisting on pale slop and beer, for the most part, but the diet of the common man was much more varied than our romanticized depictions might indicate. In order to correct this and other popular misconceptions, Jason Kingsley of Modern History TV runs a Youtube channel devoted to all things medieval.

In a four-part video series, Kingsley is joined by food historian Chris Carr to discuss the menus of centuries past, along with the differences in eating habits between the peasants and the upper class — nobles or knights. In the segment about peasants, featured above, Kingsley is surprised as Carr wheels out delectable looking hunks of salmon, nutritious brown barley bread, and even a mug of ale.

Carr explains that salmon was considered common food back in those days, as it was freely harvested from all the local rivers. She goes on to note that the peasant’s bread was much healthier than the white bread of the nobles, because many of the important nutrients were sifted out of the wheat used for white bread. Although white bread was harder to make and even considered a symbol of status, it was detrimental to the longevity of the upper classes.

Beer was a popular beverage, to be sure, but it was imbibed more frequently when clean water was scarce. Carr mentions that in areas where clean water was plentiful, beer consumption was much less prevalent.

In the video featured below, we see what a knight would be served. Knights were allowed to own and eat their own rabbits and other game. The knight’s diet was filled with more expensive foods, most notably spices. Spices were ridiculously expensive, to the point where a couple of nutmegs would cost a peasant several days worth of pay.

Spices were kept in spice chests that were closely monitored and even kept in the safe room with other riches and valuables. The lady of the manor would keep the key to the spice chest on her person at all times and only the highest level chefs were allowed to go anywhere near them. Speaking of chefs, Carr also points out that celebrity chefs were common to the medieval era. She says it wasn’t uncommon for kings and bishops to feud over a particularly talented cook.

Modern History TV has a long list of fun videos that educate with little factoids at every turn. Click here to visit their page and learn how soap was made in medieval times, what they used in place of plastic wrap, and even how knights would make it though snow in a full suit of armor.

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