Decorated initial t

he reasons for the decline of British cooking were, firstly, the Enclosures Acts which removed the constant stimulus that peasant cooking gives to any nation’s cuisine; our roots were cut away. Secondly, Victorian society praised French cooking and belittled the traditional British cuisine, so that no distinguished cook was encouraged to develop it and lead the way. Thirdly, as the first industrial society we became to a great extent urbanised, which created new and acceptable practices not conducive to good food. Fourthly, the architecture of the suburban villa and the hierarchy of servant labour drove a wedge between kitchen and dining room, turning cooking into a mercenary duty. In addition to which there was a dearth of experienced cooks. With the huge expansion of the middle classes needing more and more kitchen staff; illiterate and untrained women were employed as cooks who could only muddle through, presenting their employers with overcooked, tasteless meals, which they learnt to accept rather than lose their staff. Fifthly, the advent of technology in canning, packaging, freezing and retailing was enthusiastically and uncritically embraced in the kitchen, bringing standardised tastes and textures. Sixth, a fear of the untamed, the raw, the hearty and the vulgar caused dishes to be bland and over-refined with their emphasis upon appearance rather than flavour. Seventh, religious zeal made bad cooking acceptable and insensitivity over food praiseworthy. Eighth, and this factor was to continue with even greater disaster into the twentieth century-war. Wars caused naval blockades and the halt of food supplies from distant countries, severely limiting the diversity of ingredients on which British cooking had traditionally relied. The Crimean War (1853-1856) and then the Boer War (1899-1902), though both only of three years’ duration, halted supplies. Lastly, in the seventeenth century, we had lost a royal court that thought of food as a developing aesthetic form. Our monarchy thereafter followed bourgeois practice; it was the bourgeoisie that took over the role of food guardians and in the eighteenth century fulfilled the role admirably. It was totally unaware of the role it played, however, so tragically threw it away; instead, it pursued a French culinary chimera. [291-92]

Links to Related Material


Broomfield, Andrea. Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007.

Eating with the Victorians. Ed. C. Anne Wilson. Sutton, 2004.

Spencer, Colin. British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History. New Yoek: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Wohl, Anthony S. Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983. pp. 48-49, 50-51.

Last Modified 26 June 2022