Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

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jrf29's picture
jrf29
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Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

In Peak Oil A, Chris says that our diets today would have been the envy most kings of the past, since without oil it would take the full-time labor of 100 people to satisfy the food requirements of a single American.  I doubt that this can be accurate.

If we assume that a person gave just 5% (an unrealistically low number historically) of their food production in taxes to the King, a King would then only need to have several thousand subjects in order to eat very well.  And we know that kingdoms were very much larger than that, and that thousands of acres of land supplied the demands of most European Kings.  So why the assertion that we eat better than they did?  The records of the lavish feasts which they held on a regular basis sound like something that the average American could never afford, unless they wanted to substitute Cheez Wiz for hundreds of roasted pheasants!

It seems to me an unfortunately repeated platitude which we tell ourselves, that "we eat and live better than the pharoes and kings."  We don't.  And it is a shame to see our national pride propped up by such stuff.  At no point in the past did americans make themselves feel good by saying that they lived better than kings.  They were proud of their frugality, their industriousness, and their charity.

I bring this up because it seems like a raw, unvetted fact that has been picked out of modern urban legendry and made its way unfiltered into one of the crash course chapters.  That should probably be remedied, lest listeners think that other information is similarly unvetted.

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jrf29
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?
Plus, one must remember that besides his own use of the finest quality food, a King required immense supplies for his servants, horses, and dogs, none of which engaged in any productive activity.  This is far above the reach of the average american.
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Reuben Bailey
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

For what it is worth, I would guess that the phrase comes from the fact that we currently are able to eat pretty fresh food at any time of year and our diets are generally quite varied.  While climates that enjoy a year round growing season may have kept kings supplied with fresh fruit and vegies throughout the year, any who ruled where the growing season was limited would have been hard pressed to find the large variety and freshness that we have any time we walk into a grocery store.

Just my two cents.

All the best.

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Lemonyellowschwin
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

jrf29, be careful, this is the internet.  Someone might think your post is serious.

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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

In case this is a serious topic....

Medeival kings ate a rather poor, if plentiful, diet of roasted meats seasoned with spices and honey.  Not much in the way of fresh veggies or fruits - some but not good amounts.  As a result, many of them were rotund and for that and sanitary reasons had very short lifespans. 

While many Americans (and increasingly the Europeans and Japanese who may immitate them) have a crappy fast food diet, it is easy to walk into a supermarket in most of the industrial world and find anything you want.  Here in Japan, though I mostly eat locally produced foods in season, I can find bananas from the Phillipines or South America, grapefruit from Israel or Florida, vegetables from California, salmon from Alaska or Chile, mangoes from South Africa,  avocados from Mexico or the Philippines, breads or pizza crust made from flour from the USA and on and on.  (I don't eat beef, pork, fowl, but that too is shipped around the world.)  

So Chris is absolutely right with that statement.  

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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

 jrf29 It seems to me an unfortunately repeated platitude which we tell ourselves, that "we eat and live better than the pharoes and kings."  We don't.  And it is a shame to see our national pride propped up by such stuff.  At no point in the past did americans make themselves feel good by saying that they lived better than kings.  They were proud of their frugality, their industriousness, and their charity. jrf29

 

The tone of the above smacks of current "trash Americans and America on all fronts" coming from many of the political left in America. Universals such as {At no point in the past did} and {They were proud of} weaken your argument and imply a you know every Americans' attitude in the past. One could say however "with certainty" that the full range of attitudes good and bad have and will at any moment be found in America. But to imply any one attitude represents the majority requires one to have at the very least have statistically sampled the nation. Are you a sociologist?

I am new here and no nothing of your writings and see you have posted 34 times. Are you routinely so publicly critical of Chris? I hope this is simply an anomaly. Next time a personal email will save you embarrassment from an undiscerning critical spirit.

Sitting alone punching a keyboard  can be too much like thoughts in the mind that are private and not meant for public consumption then out of nowhere enter is pushed and now the whole world can see it. In conversation inflection can temper course thoughts with kind tone. Writing lacks such except for the most skilled. Embarrassingly I have committed such blunders to many times myself and even now wonder how this will come across since I am unskilled in writing. I hope for the best but realize I am a mere man with a powerful ruder the tongue/pen.

 

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jrf29
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

Yes, I certainly am serious, though not quite as serious as some of you seem to imagine ;-).

reubenmp3 wrote:

...I would guess that the phrase comes from the fact that we currently are able to eat pretty fresh food at any time of year and our diets are generally quite varied.  While climates that enjoy a year round growing season may have kept kings supplied with fresh fruit and vegies throughout the year, any who ruled where the growing season was limited would have been hard pressed to find the large variety and freshness that we have...

Yes, I would agree with that, of course.  We do have a greater variety of food, because some foods just weren't available locally, and did not store long enough to be transported beyond a certain distance.  But storage time is the limiting factor there, not total man-hours of labor.  Those items which did keep long enough for transport, such as spices from China, were transported thousands of miles and by the ton.

As far as freshness, a king would have enjoyed the freshest foods available, picked or killed immediately before cooking.  The lack of greens and fruits was due to the effect of the winter months, when fresh produce was not available, and no method existed which could adequately preserve their nutritional value during prolonged storage.  Thus it is true; even a king could succumb to vitamin deficiency.

But all this completely beside the point.  The assertion in the Chapter is made in the context of energy usage, as expressed in man-hours of labor, as you can see:

"[T]he amount of food that the average north american consumes in a year requires the equivalent of 400 gallons of petroleum to produce and ship....which doesn't sound too extreme.  However when we consider that those 400 gallons represent the energy equivalent of 100 humans working year round at 40 hours per week, then it takes on an entirely different meaning.  This puts your diet well out of the reach of most kings of times past."

And this is simply not true.  It can be easily demonstrated that the energy equivalent of food consumed by any typical king through the majority of the middle ages required far more than the net energy input of 100 full-time workers.  And I'm saying that it is a small, but careless oversight which should be fixed, or at least clarified.  That's all.

radiance wrote:

The tone of the above smacks of current "trash Americans and America on all fronts" coming from many of the political left in America. Universals such as {At no point in the past did} and {They were proud of} weaken your argument and imply a you know every Americans' attitude in the past. One could say however "with certainty" that the full range of attitudes good and bad have and will at any moment be found in America. But to imply any one attitude represents the majority requires one to have at the very least have statistically sampled the nation. Are you a sociologist?

I certainly do not think that I am "trashing america" by suggesting that at one point in our history the country, culturally speaking, was proud of its industry, frugality, and charity.  By "our country" I mean the average cultural expression of the nation as a whole, as expressed in most literature, plays, sermons, etc, and not necessarily the feeling of 100% of the individuals alive at that time.  Regardless of that, it is certainly impossible that our ancestors were proud of the fact that they lived better than kings, since factually they knew that they did not.  It is unlikely that americans used to be proud of something they knew they did not possess, unless they were delusional.  Since we must assume that most americans at any given time were not delusional, the conclusion is inescapable.  Although your feeling that I am 'america-bashing' by pointing out that we do not live like kings might suggest that you would disagree.

No, I am not a sociologist, although I did do a research assistantship for one once, just for fun.  I find that sociologists are sometimes needlessly offended by blunt assertions of fact, since they sometimes, in my opinion, do not rely on enough facts in reaching their own conclusions, and thus feel offended when they ought to feel merely intrigued. 

I generally believe in the accuracy of Chris' writings as well.  Here I merely pointed out what I thought was a very small error.  I think people's reactions here reveal their emotional involvement in the issue.

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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?
If it took 100 people working to feed the king, how many did it take to feed those 100?
Reuben Bailey's picture
Reuben Bailey
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

I'm not sure that the variety in our diet is beside the point - we are able to get a varied diet because we have the energy at our disposal.  As for your assertion that the energy input for the feeding of kings can be easily proven, please do so.  I'm not saying you are wrong, as I don't know.  I am curious how you would prove it.  If what you are saying is correct, then it should probably be corrected, although I am not sure that many people would think twice about it.

All the best.

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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

Rueben Bailey,

As for your assertion that the energy input for the feeding of kings can be easily proven, please do so. 

According to Dale Allen Pfeiffer's study, as detailed in Eating Fossil Fuels (www.agri-warfare.co.nr), his conclusions from his study (cited sources and additional statistics therein) was that current industrial agriculture food, made from fossil fuels (pesticides, transport, etc.) every 1 calorie of food 'energy' worth, required 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce the one calorie. (and that excluded the energy required for cooking of the food item)

Obviously that ratio is highly unsustainable and was and has only been possible due to the abuse of oil, and the manipulation of its price (Matt Simmons  (CEO of one of the largest energy investment banks in the world) opinion a few years back was that an accurate value driven price for crude oil at that point in time should have been about $183 per barrel)), thereby making such an infusion of such a valuable energy resource into the agricultural process possible.

I'm not sure it's as bad as that in other industrial countries, who don't spend as much energy transporting food for thousands of mile distances -- Kunstler's proverbial clusterfuck 1000 mile Island Salad...

Sorta like Coyote spending 1000 calories to catch Donald Duck for dinner, and Donald's calorie value only amounting to 100 calories!! Obviously Coyote would be going on a serious diet, if she spent 1000 calories every day chasing Donald's family for dinner, and each Donald only provided her with 100 calories of economy yum yum!!!

Don't know if that's helpful.

JMCSwan

 

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jrf29
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

[quote=djp169]If it took 100 people working to feed the king, how many did it take to feed those 100? [/quote]

One thousand serfs each giving 10% (say) of their annual product, is the energy equivalent of 100 full-time workers.

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joe2baba
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Re: Our Diet Better Than That Of Kings?

just a question for clarification. which kings? what time frame? what continent?           s america? africa? polynesia?

or is this just euro centric say .................500 ad - 1800ad?

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