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Meat consumption and nutrition transition in Barcelona, 1709–1935


Meat consumption increase since the nineteenth century is a good indicator of the key stage of the so-called nutrition transition. This article is based on primary sources, predominantly municipal slaughterhouse bookkeeping data, and examines the changing patterns of supply, distribution and consumption of different types of meat, in order to avoid the risk of an over-simplified historical view. Long-term analysis shows that between 1740 and 1840, a period of economic and demographic growth, meat consumption levels dropped dramatically. After that time, the liberalization of agriculture and the new rail network boosted the supply of meat. Other sources and spatial analysis help us examine the ways that the city was supplied with meat, the meat retail distribution within it and the changing diet of the different urban social strata.

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1 Popkin, B.M., ‘Nutritional patterns and transitions’, Population and Development Review, 19 (1993), 138–57; Smil, V., Feeding the World: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA, 2000).

2 Teuteberg, H.J. (ed.), European Food History (Leicester, 1992); Kiple, K.F. and Ornelas, K.C. (eds.), The Cambridge History of Food (Cambridge, 2000).

3 Smil, V., ‘Eating meat: evolution, patterns and consequences’, Population and Development Review, 28 (2004), 599–639.

4 Garrabou, R. and Cussó, X., ‘La transició nutricional a la Catalunya contemporània: una primera aproximació’, Recerques, 47–8 (2003–04), 5180; Nicolau Nos, R. and Pujol Andreu, J., ‘Los factores condicionantes de la transición nutricional en la Europa occidental: Barcelona, 1890–1936’, Scripta Nova, Revista Electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales, 12 (2008), 261,

5 Nicolau Nos, R. and Pujol Andreu, J., ‘El consumo de proteínas animales en Barcelona entre las décadas de 1830 y 1930: evolución y factores condicionantes’, Investigaciones de Historia Económica, 3 (2005), 101–34. See also Nicolau Nos, R. and Pujol Andreu, J., ‘Urbanization and dietary change in Mediterranean Europe: Barcelona, 1870–1935’, in Atkins, P.J., Lummel, P. and Oddy, D.J. (eds.), Food and the City in Europe since 1800 (Aldershot, 2007).

6 The documentary sources are not completely uniform. Basically, according to the sources, three main time brackets should be considered. For the period between 1709 and 1852, all data was gathered from the Meat Administration account books of the municipal slaughterhouse (Historical Archive of the City of Barcelona, Meat Administration, 1709–1801: VIII-1–3-11–17–37–38–62–63–72–74–86–87–88–89, 1817–37: XVI-1). The Meat Administration's disaggregate data do not resume until 1897, but from then on the Statistical Yearbooks of Barcelona (Anuaris Estadístics) provide highly diverse and detailed data up to 1920. This is the most widely studied period and information about it has been supplemented with data from the Municipal Gazette (Gaseta Municipal) for 1934 and 1935. The gap between 1850 and 1897 has been filled with information from municipal budgets (Municipal Acts, Contemporary Archive of Barcelona) that provide two types of data that do not always suit our purposes: the annual estimates of consumption tax (i.e. the tariff levied on products entering towns) that, in the case of meat, provides the aggregate weight of beef, mutton and goat meat; and, for some years, summaries of the livestock killed at the slaughterhouses, counted by head, as in previous periods. To obtain comparable figures for the whole period under study, these aggregate data have been adopted until 1897, and we have added pork consumption where data was available. After this date, we have differentiated beef and veal from mutton and goat meat. To make a more useful and significant approximation, however, Figure 2 was prepared showing consumption in grams per person per day. The source of the population data is: López, P., ‘Evolució demogràfica’, in Sobrequés, J. (ed.), Història de Barcelona, 8 vols. (Barcelona, 1991–97), vol. V, 111–66, and P. López and M. Tatjer, ‘Demografia barcelonina, 1833–1865’, in Sobrequés (ed.), Història de Barcelona, vol. VI, 95–150.

7 Figuerola, L., Estadística de Barcelona en 1849 (Madrid, 1968), 147–57.

8 Sobrequés, S. and Sobrequés, J., La guerra civil catalana, vol. I (Barcelona, 1973), 283.

9 Vilar, P., Catalunya dins l'Espanya Moderna, vol. III (Barcelona, 1966), 245–53.

10 Clar Moliner, E., ‘La soberanía del productor. Industrias alimentarias y modelo de consumo fordista en España: 1960–1975’, XI Congreso de Historia Agraria (Monasterio de Santa María la Real. Aguilar de Campoo, 2005) (; Gómez Mendoza, A. and Simpson, J., ‘El consumo de carne en Madrid durante el primer tercio del siglo XX’, Moneda y Crédito, 186 (1988), 5791.

11 F. García Pascual, ‘Ganadería, agroindustria y territorio. El desarrollo de la ganadería industrial en Cataluña en el siglo XX’, Lleida University, Ph.D. thesis, 1995, 41–54.

12 Vidal Olivares, J., ‘El transporte de ganados a través del ferrocarril: un indicador de la modernización agraria en el País Valenciano, 1850–1914’, Áreas. Revista Internacional de Ciencias Sociales (Murcia, 1990), 216–22; Muñoz Rubio, M., ‘Una aproximación al transporte ferroviario de ganado entre 1848–1913’, V Congreso de Historia Ferroviaria (Palma, 14–19 Oct. 2009).

13 Vidal Olivares, ‘El transporte de ganados a través del ferrocarril’, 216–22.

14 Horowitz, R., Pilcher, J.M. and Watts, S., ‘Meat for the multitudes: market culture in Paris, New York, and Mexico City over the long nineteenth century’, American Historical Review, 109 (2004), 1055–83.

15 La Vanguardia, Tuesday, 11 Oct. 1881, 5; G. Baics, ‘Appetite for beef: how much meat did early New Yorkers consume?’, European University Institute Working Papers, 2010,

16 Vidal Olivares, ‘El transporte de ganados a través del ferrocarril’, 216–22. In 1905, the total consumption of meat in the city of Valencia (215,687 inhab.: 72.8 grams per person day); the province (590,840 inhab.: 26.0 grams per person day). Alicante city (50,495 inhab.: 41.8 grams per person day); province (424,228 inhab.: 17.8 grams per person day). Castellón city (29,966 inhab.: 44.6 grams per person day); province (298,294 inhab.: 12.3 grams per person day).

17 Gómez Mendoza and Simpson, ‘El consumo de carne en Madrid’.

18 Butlletí Mensual d'Estadística de la Generalitat de Catalunya, 5 (1934).

19 Gómez Mendoza and Simpson, ‘El consumo de carne en Madrid’, 89.

20 Figuerola, Estadística de Barcelona, 154.

21 García Pascual, ‘Ganadería, agroindustria y territorio’, 47–54.

22 Nicolau Nos and Pujol Andreu, ‘El consumo de proteínas animales en Barcelona entre las décadas de 1830 y 1930’.

23 Gómez Mendoza and Simpson, ‘El consumo de carne en Madrid’, 77–8.

24 Figuerola, Estadística de Barcelona, 152–5.

25 Cerdà, I., ‘Monografía estadística de la clase obrera de Barcelona en 1856’, in La teoría general de la urbanización, vol. II (Madrid, 1968), 658–60.

26 Grupo de Estudios de Historia Rural, ‘Contribución al análisis histórico de la ganadería española, 1865–1929’, Agricultura y Sociedad, 8 (1978), 118; Flores de Lemus, A., ‘Algunos datos estadísticos sobre el estado actual de la economía española’, in García de Blas, A., Hacienda Pública Española (Madrid, 1976), 429.

27 According to Cerdà’s ‘Monografía estadística de la clase obrera’, the price of meat doubled that of salt cod. In the Anuario Estadístico de Barcelona of 1911, although the best cuts were still double the price of salt cod, some cuts, such as ribs, skirt, arm shoulder, tail and neck, were priced the same as salt cod.

28 Although the parallel between the trend of real wages at companies such as La España Industrial and the evolution of per capita meat consumption between the 1860s and the 1880s is remarkable, it should be kept in mind that an average consumption curve conceals 30% to 50% of consumers who actually never come to enjoy this status. The real wage increase curves of these decades refer, in all cases, to male workers. The respective real wage curves of female workers remain immobile. See Camps, E., La formación del mercado de trabajo industrial en la Cataluña del siglo XIX (Madrid, 1995); E. Camps, ‘Labour market formation patterns in nineteenth-century Catalonia’ (UPF Economics and Business Working Paper No. 718, 2003); Garrabou, R., Pujol, J. and Colomé, J., ‘Salaris, ús i explotació de la força de treball agrícola (Catalunya, 1818–1936)’,Recerques, 24 (1991), 5374; Enrech, C., Indústria i ofici. Conflicte social i jerarquies obreres en la Catalunya tèxtil (1881–1923) (Barcelona, 2005); Llonch Casanovas, M., ‘Jornada, salarios y costes labores en el sector textil catalán (1891–1936)’, Revista de Historia Industrial, 26 (2004). Our thanks to Cristina Borderies for her reflections and historiographical advice on these matters.

29 La Vanguardia, 11 Oct. 1881, 5.

30 Rossell, P.M., El problema de les carns (Barcelona, 1921),

31 Gómez Mendoza and Simpson, ‘El consumo de carne en Madrid’, 71.

32 La Vanguardia, 19 Jan. 1896, 4.

33 Rossell, El problema, 53.

34 See the sources cited in Figure 6.

35 Cerdà, ‘Monografía estadística de la clase obrera’, 622.

36 San José Market Plan, 23 Nov. 1877, and El Born Market Plan, 8 Jul. 1876 (Files 8420 and 8428, Treasury Commission, Contemporary Archive of Barcelona).

37 Miller, M., Feeding Barcelona 1714–1975. Public Market Halls, Social Networks and Consumer Culture (Baton Rouge, 2015), 142.

38 On placing butcher shops on the city map, it becomes apparent that, for example, in 1912 more than 40 butcher shops were located within a radius of influence of less than 150 metres from a public market, thus raising the markets’ concentrating capacity to 80% of the total meat retail offering. On the basis of the Industrial and Commercial Tax Register (Crown of Aragon Archive), location maps have been plotted for all butcher shops, marking radii of 150 and 300 metres around the public markets according to their location in 1897, 1912 and 1932/33. See also Fava, N., Guàrdia, M. and Oyón, J.L., ‘Barcelona food retailing and public markets, 1876–1936’, Urban History, 43 (2016), 454–75.

39 Miller, Feeding Barcelona, 142, 147–8, 289n.

40 The Industrial and Commercial Tax Register is the source of the map here too. With respect to the urban growth process of working-class and peripheral neighbourhoods, see Oyón, J.L., La quiebra de la ciudad popular. Espacio urbano, inmigración y anarquismo en la Barcelona de entreguerras (1914–1936) (Barcelona, 2007); Oyón, J.L., ‘The split of a working-class city: urban space, immigration and anarchism in interwar Barcelona, 1914–1936’, Urban History, 36 (2009), 86112.

41 As mentioned by Nicolau Nos and Pujol Andreu, and as may be verified in the statistical yearbooks and the Gaseta Municipal, the consumption of veal and, in particular, of lamb and kid goat, became predominant in the city's public markets at the cost of mutton, the consumption levels of which dropped dramatically: Statistical Yearbook of Barcelona, 1902; Municipal Gazette, 1935, 131; Nicolau Nos and Pujol Andreu, ‘El consumo de proteínas animales en Barcelona entre las décadas de 1830 y 1930’.

42 Rossell, El problema, 53.

43 Statistical Yearbook of Barcelona, 1917–20, 564; Municipal Gazette, 1934, 185; Municipal Gazette, 1935, 131.

44 C. Sola Ayape, ‘Abastecimiento urbano y liberalismo económico: la política de abastos en la Navarra del siglo XIX’, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, Alicante, 2005,, accessed 14 Nov. 2016.

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