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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009



Mother Nature always comes to the rescue of a society stricken with the problem of overpopulation, and her ministrations are never gentle.

Alfred W. Crosby (1986)

ARCHEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE now in the British Museum from West Stow in Suffolk, England, has shed some light on the dietary changes that came about with the fall of Rome. Sheep, goats, and pigs were retained for food, and pigs also for their scavenging ability, and cattle as draft animals. But guinea fowl and peacocks, favorites of the Romans, escaped to die out in the wild. Many rabbits also escaped but were recaptured and maintained in rock enclosures in both Britain and on the Continent. Olive oil vanished as a cooking medium, replaced by butter made mostly from ewe's milk. Wine, too, disappeared with the Romans and ale became the standard beverage.

The Catholic Church, established in England by the sixth century, imposed fasting days and, by the time of the Norman conquest (1066), fishermen from the British Isles had forged an important herring industry. Freshwater fish, eels and other aquatic animals from ponds, streams, and lakes comprised a significant part of the British diet although, because the Church viewed fish as a penitential substitute for meat, the appeal of the former suffered, and physicians, as a rule, regarded fish as a poor nutritional substitute for meat.

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A Movable Feast
  • Online ISBN: 9780511512148
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