Posts in Category: England

Where’s the boef?

norman conquest

I guess lamb wasn’t popular in medieval England otherwise we’d be eating rack of agneau. Let me explain. Ever wonder why we eat beef but raise cows? Why once sheep hit the stock pot, they become mutton? Well, like with most overcomplicated things, we have the French to thank.  The Norman conquest of England brought French habits and words to the English language, specifically, as one would expect, many food words. While the invading Normans enjoyed the luxuries and foods of their newly conquered land, the local Saxons were left on the farm. Thus, the French brought to court their food language: mouton (sheep), boef (cow), veau (calf), poulet (fowl), porc (pig), which eventually becomes mutton, beef, veal, poultry and pork. As with most things, the Supersizers do a much better job explaining this in costume, if you can get past Giles Coren’s deafening chewing noises.

Vegetarians for voting rights

life1-500x777It’s World Vegetarian Day! For all our meat-shunning friends it’s a day to celebrate the earth’s bounty while sneering at the barbarians who still partake of flesh (me!). Also, it’s a day to remember a piece of forgotten women’s history. Feminist theory has long highlighted the common subjugation of women and animals in a patriarcal world where meat-eating plays an integral role in male dominance. In mid-19th century America, the early vegetarian movement was closely linked with several reform movements including animal welfare, health reform, abolition and women’s suffrage. The American Vegetarian Society was founded in 1850 under the leadership of several prominent American health reformers of the day, including noted vegetarian Reverend Sylvester Graham (of Graham cracker fame). It was the first society of it’s kind in the U.S and attracted supporters the like of Susan B. Anthony, who was known to throw vegetarian dinners but also still enjoyed the odd turkey and cow.

In the U.K. where vegetarian diets were being adopted up by the upper classes, London was teeming with vegetarian eateries. By the 1880′s, 30 new vegetarian restaurants had opened in London. These restaurants, as well as tea rooms, became popular meeting spots for suffragettes as there were few places where women could gather alone together outside the home. Away from the steaming kitchen and roast beef dinners, vegetarian restaurants also set an example of the kind of simple and fast cooking that could liberate women from the stove. Eventually women created their own spaces. London’s Minerva Club was founded by the Women’s Freedom League in 1920 attracting women from all branches of the women’s suffrage movement. Knowing their clientele, the club’s restaurant advertised that its vegetarian dishes were cooked separately and entirely free of animal fat. Eight years later the Representation of the People Act granted all women over the age of 21 the right to vote.



The historic healing power of the beach

Image via Wiki Commons

Image via Wiki Commons

What if your doctor actually prescribed you a trip to the beach? These days we go to the beach to relax and rejuvenate. But we used to believe that a trip to the beach would actually cure us. Eighteenth century British beachgoers dunked themselves in the chilly waters of the North Sea to relieve their moral and physical ailments. For decades, taking in sea air and drinking seawater was prescribed with medical certainty. Through the tuberculosis epidemic of the nineteenth century, the seaside was a place of refuge and rehabilitation for the wealthy. Eventually, as the middle class flocked to the beach in the twentieth century, we turned our gazes from the sea to the sun–the new source of therapeutic wonder that rejuvenated and revitalized us with the tans to prove it. Here’s the full story on The Atlantic.




In 1938 this ad for Will’s Gold Flake cigarettes appeared in The Times of London reminding readers that cigarettes are just like babies and that a charming girl will never sacrifice a man’s cigarette.


“When a charming girl asks you for a cigarette and you’ve only one left – your last precious Gold Flake – what should you do about it? Try the Solomon act. Offer to cut it in half. She’ll never let you. She’ll more likely produce some of her own and solve the problem that way. Women have learned to appreciate a man’s cigarette, you see. Men have always smoked Will’s Gold Flake for their distinctive flavour – the flavour of fine Virginian tobaccos. So do women, now.”

Her Majesty’s Rat-Catcher and Destroyer of London’s Vermin


Jack Black says: “I’ve been bitten nearly everywhere, even where I can’t name to you, sir.”

Each great civilization is plagued by its own particular infestation—the point at which the balance between man and vermin shifts uncomfortably in the direction of the critters. Biblical Egypt had its plague of locusts, modern New York City is terrorized by bedbugs, and Victorian London had a serious rat problem. Full story on Lapham’s Quarterly.

World War Rat

Waging Worldwide War on Rats

1919 was a bad year for rats. Six years earlier the State of Indiana had declared rats a public enemy and “rat day” had been officially declared to encourage people to kill rats in their spare time. Apart from spreading diseases, destroying property and generally being creepy, vicious buggers (it’s the hairless tail), rats were destroying crops at a rapid rate. By 1919 the US Department of Agriculture estimated that the loss of crops and property caused by rats was $200 million (in 1919!), which was equivalent to the annual gross earnings of 200,000 men at the time.


That same year, the Department of Health issued an official five step plan for managing their numbers:
1) starvation
2) depriving them of a breeding place
3) depriving them of living space
4) “killing him at every opportunity”
5) passing city and state “anti-rat” laws

Over in the UK, the British had a more direct approach: poison gas.

The mechanism of the gas machine is simple. It is of a light and portable type, consisting simply of a generator, a fan with a handle attached and a reversible tube. In the process of charging ordinary rook sulphur is wrapped in a piece of dry paper, which is Ignited and placed in the generator. Sulfurous fumes of a high strength are produced, and these are driven by means of the fan along the tube, the mouth of which is placed in the rat hole. At the first demonstration held in England the fumes killed most of the rats in the hole, only those which were far away in the run being able to escape, and they were killed by an alert terrier.”

So, fumigating rats worked. No word on what became of the alert terrier.

Rout the Rat!