Saturday, 3 May 2014

1797 Workhouse Diet Day 7: Food for Thought

Day 7 Stodge-ometer rating: 5/10


I got very excited on the last day of the diet. I'm not talking a little bit jittery, I'm talking sweaty-palms-and-butterflies-in-the-tummy levels. You know, like when you hear the sound of a cheering audience or glimpse a new sparkly dress. Or is that just me?


Obviously the day's food was not the cause of my excitement. It was merely a repeat of a previous day; gruel for breakfast, stew for lunch and broth & bread for supper.

Here's a YouTube clip of me getting excited at breakfast time. I was so excited I accidentally called it video No.7 instead of No.8.

My great excitement was, of course, because I'd successfully completed the first of the diets. I didn't have to go without tea or biscuits any longer! 

However, 24 hours later I've only had one cup of 'real' tea, and no biscuits other than medicinal fig rolls -and I need not expand any further on those. 


In spite of all predictions, all I wanted when I got to the end was oranges, orange juice, and dried fruit and nuts. And I had a green smoothie too, to pack in a bit of goodness. To be honest, I haven't fancied anything REALLY sugary, like biscuits, in the slightest (not even Lemon Puffs). 

Has this diet made me lose my incredibly 'sweet tooth'? Maybe it has. This shocking revelation made me ponder about various other surprises the 1797 diet had to offer.

Here are some things I noticed while on the 1797 diet: 


  • I had blinding headaches for the first two and a half days.
  • I suffered painful bloating on the first day.
  • Beer for breakfast made me sluggish and woozy.
  • My -ahem- 'digestive transit' slowed right down.
  • The meals took a lot of eating! Much more chewing required.
  • I got big dark circles around my eyes.
  • People kept telling me I looked pale.
  • I was physically incapable of remaining awake beyond 9.30pm.
  • I felt increasingly lethargic and sluggish through the week. 
  • I was psychotically looking forward to oranges by the end of the week.

On the bright side, I was never, ever hungry- not even once. 


Would the inmates of 1797 have felt hungry on the same rations? The simple answer is, we can't tell. This experiment has, so far, raised more questions than it has answered. Dietician Lucy's prognosis was gloomy, but historians at Gressenhall wondered whether inmates really did work that hard every single day and burn off all those calories? We'll never know. We haven't found records to back up the nutritional deficit we now know would have caused inmates dental problems and hair-loss; but if it happened, it was probably as unremarkable then as it is startling now, so its reasonable to assume that nobody would have bothered to write it down. 

How did the diet in the workhouse compare to that of people in the surrounding villages? Was it better, or worse?


If Gressenhall Workhouse was known as  "The Paupers' Palace", the implication is that conditions were better inside than outside those daunting gates. The tough 1834 legislation to deter entrance into the place indicates the same thing.

We can theoretically try to compare 1797 diets inside and outside the Workhouse, but realistically I can only compare it to my own, modern eating. I'm interested in the   tangible, burpy, bloaty, sleepy, human experience, which is, after all, why I'm doing it. The 'Voices from the Workhouse' were probably muted by flatulence and muffled by toothless yawning. The 1797 diet yet was tricky for me; I think the 1834 diet will be considerably worse. In the meantime, I shall enjoy the wide variety of delicious fruits and vegetables freely available in 2014 and feel lucky to be me, now.


The next part of this project is the 1834 diet which begins on Monday 12th May.

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