Fast Eating In a Go-Ahead Nation
Food has always been abundant in the U.S.
Americans have had a tendency to overeat and under-chew from the get-go.
As Vice President, John Adams acquired the name His Rotundity because he was both overweight and pompous.
John Bell, M.D. (“On Regimen and Longevity: Comprising Materia Alimentaria, National Dietetic Usages, and the Influence of Civilization on Health and the Duration of Life,” The Medico-Chirurgical Review, No. 41, 1844) wrote …
“In the United States of America, according to Dr. Bell, the alimentary products are most abundant, and their consumption placed within the means of nearly all classes. Even the slave population of the South is better fed than the peasantry of any part of continental Europe, and luxuriously compared with a large proportion of the operatives in Great Britain. A full supply of animal food, usually bacon or salt pork and salt fish, with corn bread, is allowed to the slave; to which is added, either the Irish, or still more commonly farther South, the sweet potato; and, instead of corn, rice in the lower districts of Carolina and Georgia. In Virginia and the West, fresh meat is given to them not unfrequently. To most of them is allotted a piece of ground (a patch) for a garden, in which they grow sundry vegetables and fruits for their own use, and not seldom for that of their masters, by whom they are paid at a fair price. Poultry and eggs, which they also have of their own, are more generally sold by them, either to their master’s family or at the nearest village or court-house; and with the money they purchase groceries and other minor luxuries, or articles of personal adornment. The fruit, which they raise in the largest quantities for their own consumption and for sale, is the water-melon. The house slaves partake of the fare of their superiors, with the exception of a more restricted use of wheat bread; but this cannot be called a privation among a people with whom, as in the case of those of the South and West, maize is the bread corn, and the preferred one of the country.
“If this be the diet of the slaves, that of the free white population ought to be most luxurious. In fact the author owns ‘that the people of the United States are in a large majority of them, over-fed.’ The artisan in the city, and even the hired labourer in the country, eats meat oftener in the day than many of the farmers, owners of the land, in France, and substantial renters on the shores in Italy, eat in the week. Dr. Bell estimates that for every pound of beef or veal consumed in Great Britain, there are nearly three pounds consumed in the United States.
“Having so much to eat, of course such a ‘go-ahead’ nation considers it necessary not to waste too much time in masticating it; the following description of a Yankee meal being by an American, cannot be considered as exaggerated or prejudiced.
“‘With such a superabundance, as I have already said, of aliment of all kinds procurable by all classes above destitution, it is natural that the Americans should be great eaters; one man consuming as much animal food in a day as would support three labouring men in Europe; and, together with vegetables and bread, taking also his glass of milk and no small quantity of pie or pudding, with often fruit afterwards. A man in harvest time, in almost any of the States, eats at his three meals, more, in nutritive amount, than would constitute luxurious living for eight East Indian or Chinese palanquin bearers for a week. In addition to the quantity, the time for consumption of food by our people is surprising, the latter being, however, in its brevity, in the inverse ratio of the former. Often, also, the rapidity with which a meal is dispatched seems but a signal for entire cessation from all labour, even that of thought, for some time afterwards. Thus, it is common enough for men of active business habits to make an onslaught on a well furnished table for about five to ten minutes, during which brief period they swallow, we will not say masticate, for they seem to consider their teeth as quite unnecessary instruments, with a fearful rapidity, parts of half a dozen of dishes. This feat accomplished, for really a simple Hindoo or Chinese would suppose it must be a piece of jugglery, these thankless consumers of the gifts of Providence, in place of rushing out from the table to their several marts of trade, as their first inordinate haste would seem to indicate, will be seen to seat themselves very leisurely, and, with their feet up and head thrown back, to puff away at their segars, for the next hour, with a gravity and an appearance of want of all care, which would do credit to the most orthodox follower of Mohamed, when enjoying his modicum of opium, and perchance dreaming the while of his being suddenly made a pasha of three tails, and having the plunder of a province at his disposal. But not to smoking only or to the more noxious in itself, and more obnoxious to others, chewing of tobacco, do our people rely for helping digestion, as they call it, and for rousing their dormant sensibilities after their anaconda repast.'”