What did a factory worker eat, in 1905?
Every day we open the newspaper, or any other source of information, and it says our diet is rubbish. That we shouldn’t eat this and that, but instead, something and something else. And more times than not, this truth changes the next day. Everything that was great is now toxic, and vice versa.
For those of you who think this is a modern day concern, we can argue that that’s not really true.
The concern over food and the war of diets comes from far behind. Let’s see, just by curiosity, what male and a female factory workers ate in the early 20th century.
An article in the Enciclopedia Prática (Milhões de Coisas) published in 1906  refers a study undertaken in Paris, in 1905, by Professor Landouzy and Marcel Labbé, where the diets of 100 Parisian factory workers and employees were scrutinized.
“Here, for example, is how a 37 year old blacksmith feeds himself, and we must consider that this labour is very fatiguing. At 8:30 am, 150 grams of bread and half a liter of wine; at 11 am, two absinthes; at midday, 150 grams of bread, 100 of meat, 120 of vegetables, three quarts of a liter of wine, and coffee with spirits; at 6 pm, two chalices of absinthe; at 7 pm, soup, 100 grams of bread, 100 of meat, 70 of vegetables and three quarters of a liter of wine, and one liter at night.
In sum, during the day he ingests 400 grams of bread, 200 of meat, 170 of vegetables, 150 grams of absinthe, 3 liters of wine and 40 centiliters of 50º alcohol, which represents a total of 4.600 calories for 900 réis (Portuguese coin during the monarchy).
The diet of the female factory worker is no less defective. She eats twice a day, 250 grams of bread, 170 of meat, 80 of salad, 15 of vegetables, and 2.5 deciliters of wine. All this does not cost her more than 160 réis, but only nourishes her with only 1.400 calories. A woman in these conditions, with a weight of 55 kilos, should be given 2.090 calories.”
In sum, the authors were very concerned with the astronomical amount of alcohol in the male worker’s diet, which is in fact very unbalanced… and expensive! In the case of the female worker, the authors worry about the caloric deficit in this diet, considering such strenuous work.
In today’s mindset (and of early 20th century doctors), consuming 3 liters of wine is already preposterous, but if we add another 150 ml of absinthe and somewhat more of spirits, then it’s all gone downhill.
It’s curious to see the centenary reflection of our contemporary society’s concerns. We think it’s also interesting to look behind and see the eating habits of before.
Someday, our distant descendants will look at us and our diets with the same curiosity.
References  Various authors (1906) Enciclopédia Prática. Volume IV. Lisbon: Typographia Lusitana-Editora