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Observations placeholder

Wesley’s Britain in the 1700s - Nutritional deprivation



Type of Spiritual Experience


The 1700s marked the start of the move of those who had previously lived in the countryside to the cities.  Whereas before their diet had included food they could obtain from the land – berries, nuts, meat such as rabbits and hares, fish and shellfish, - the variety and freshness of the food available in cities was very very poor.  To all intents and purposes, the 1700s was a time of severe nutritional deprivation – for everyone in cities, even the wealthy.

Meat was available, but had to be transported from the farms to the cities and the trip was by no means short or easy. ‘A doctor who was the author of the 1788 book The Honours of the Table warned that the odour of meat was such that one should keep it away from their nose while eating it.’

Not very many English people in the eighteenth century had access to fruit.  Furthermore, in the 1700s some British feared uncooked fruit; they thought it would give the person who consumed it indigestion or even the plague!

Thomas Walker - Hunt, Eating and Drinking, An Anthology for Epicures, p. 1
One of the greatest luxuries in dining is to be able to command plenty of good vegetables well served up.  But this is a luxury vainly hoped for at set parties.  The vegetables are made to figure in a very secondary way, except, indeed, whilst they are considered as great delicacies, which is generally before they are at their best -- excellent potatoes, smoking hot and accompanied by melted butter of the first quality would alone stamp merit on any dinner.

Although fresh vegetables were hard to come by, dried vegetables particularly peas and beans could be found, leading to the old staple ‘pease pudding’.  Then there was gruel - boiled oatmeal...with a little butter, if you were lucky.

The only ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy scene was cheese. Many types of English cheese became available during this time period; around 40 different kinds have been documented.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an average of 53 lb of sugar was consumed annually per person of all ages in the world in 1999

In the 1790s, the typical English individual consumed about 8.8 lbs [4 kilograms] of sugar each year.  Remembering that they had no central heating, and it was a lot colder then, this is barely enough to keep them warm.

Puddings were extremely popular because they added carbohydrates and also did not ‘go off’.  They usually had flour and fat like lard, or suet, preserved fruit such as raisins or plums [prunes] and sugar with baking powder and eggs.

As there was no refrigeration, the likelihood of getting fresh milk that had not gone off was very remote.  Tea was the national drink, drunk without milk and was ‘ruinously expensive’.

A description of the experience

The Sermons of John Wesley - Sermon 98 - On Visiting the Sick

How are we to visit them In what manner may this labour of love be most effectually performed ?

How may we do this most to the glory of God, and the benefit of our neighbour? But before ever you enter upon the work, you should be deeply convinced that you are by means sufficient for it; you have neither sufficient grace, nor sufficient understanding, to perform it in the most excellent manner. And this will convince you of the necessity of applying to the Strong for strength; and of flying to the Father of Lights, the Giver of every good gift, for wisdom; ever remembering, "there is a Spirit in man that giveth wisdom; and the inspiration of the Holy One that giveth understanding."

Whenever, therefore, you are about to enter upon the work, seek his help by earnest prayer.

Cry to him for the whole spirit of humility, lest if pride steal into your heart, if you ascribe anything to yourself, while you strive to save others you destroy your own soul.

Before and through the work, from the beginning to the end, let your heart wait upon him for a continual supply of meekness and gentleness, of patience and longsuffering, that you may never be angry or discouraged at whatever treatment, rough or smooth, kind or unkind, you may meet with.

 Be not moved with the deep ignorance of some, the dullness, the amazing stupidity of others; marvel not at their peevishness or stubbornness, at their non-improvement after all the pains that you have taken; yea, at some of them turning back to perdition, and being worse than they were before.

Still your record is with the Lord, and your reward with the Most High.

…….begin with inquiring into their outward condition. You may ask whether they have the necessaries of life; whether they have sufficient food and raiment; if the weather be cold, whether they have fuel; whether they have needful attendance; whether they have proper advice, with regard to their bodily disorder; especially if it be of a dangerous kind.

In several of these respects you may be able to give them some assistance yourself; and you may move those that are more able than you, to supply your lack of service.

You might properly say in your own case, "To beg I am ashamed;" but never be ashamed to beg for the poor; yea, in this case, be an importunate beggar; do not easily take a denial. Use all the address, all the understanding, all the influence you have; at the same time trusting in Him that has the hearts of all men in his hands.

You will then easily discern, whether there is any good office which you can do for them with your own hands.

Indeed, most of the things which are needful to be done, those about them can do better than you.

But in some you may have more skill, or more experience, than them; and if you have, let not delicacy or honour stand in your way.

Remember his word, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me;" and think nothing too mean to do for Him. Rejoice to be abased for his sake !

The source of the experience

Wesley, John

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Nutritional deprivation


Squash the big I am