The decaying post-Famine body
Tea, bread and nutritional decline
in Reforming food in post-Famine Ireland
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Did the Irish diet improve following the Famine? This culturally charged question troubled many late nineteenth-century contemporaries who referred back to the pre-Famine era as one when the Irish populace had enjoyed fuller nutritional health. In contrast, for critics, the poor had since existed in an unremitting condition of physical and psychological decay that seemed to be perpetually worsening. The commercialised economic system that evolved after the Famine differed profoundly from that predicted in the sanguine hopes of political economists and scientists who had idyllically envisioned a self-sufficient post-Famine population producing and consuming vegetables, meat and crops to attain the high levels of nutrition once obtained from the potato. This chapter identifies ongoing concern about food consumption and posits that physicians and other actors continued to problematise the Irish body through the lens of dietary intake long after the Famine. The decline of Ireland’s mono-crop culture produced new sets of food discourses that were drawn upon to explain a lack of socio-economic development. As a case study, this chapter focuses on the problem of excessive tea drinking in post-Famine Ireland; a problem associated with rising national levels of insanity and physical degeneration among the poor.

Reforming food in post-Famine Ireland

Medicine, science and improvement, 1845–1922

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