Sunday, 23 March 2014

Why on earth...?

"You must be mad" is what most people have said when I've told them I'm soon going to be eating workhouse food for three weeks, "nothing but gruel?!"

"Ugh!" they exclaim, "disgusting!" And then they finish off with a shrug and a withering "rather you than me" look.

Well, they're possibly right. It does seem to be a bit of a nutty idea; to find three diets from three distinctly different periods in the workhouse's history, and to eat only what the inmates ate.

And of course, there is a lot of potential for gruel.

But it seems a little less bonkers if you think of all the faddy diets most of us have tried at one time or another. The high-protein, halitosis-inducing, constipation-invoking Atkins diet is the first to spring to mind. I did a diet once which promised a flat stomach but delivered only acid reflux. Then there's the F-plan, the Cambridge diet, slimming milkshakes, grapefruit-before-each-meal...the list is endless.

The food I'll be consuming as part of this project is no more weird than any 'Oh my goodness I must get into that dress before the weekend' diet I've embarked on in the past.*

The workhouse diets were about feeding as many people as possible as cheaply as possible. The food given to inmates was intended to keep them alive - but not to encourage them to stay.

Hence the gruel. Boring, but cheap.

There are other reasons why this diet isn't as bonkers as it sounds.

Firstly, it's me doing it. I work at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, and as Live Interpretation Officer I can often be found dressed as a workhouse inmate for our excellent learning event days for schools (click here for info on schools events). Why not take it a stage further from looking like an inmate, to eating like an inmate?!

Secondly, there is a massive redisplay of the museum happening soon, all about Voices from the Workhouse. In this blog I'll be reflecting on some of the archive material from the museum in relation to the living conditions and diet of the inmates. For more information on that aspect, click on the HLF page at the top.

I'll also be reflecting on my experiences while on these diets, and posting lots of pictures and videos of the gloop I imagine I'll be eating. And probably I'll be mentioning bowels quite a bit. Mine, or other people's- I'm not fussy.

You can follow my bowels, if you wish, on Twitter: @workhousediet, or on Facebook- look for (and 'like' and 'share', please!) a page titled, astonishingly, 'The Workhouse Diet'.

Diet number 1, the 1797 diet, begins on 26th April 2014.

*I should make it clear that the workhouse diets were not designed for weight loss. Let's face it, in a pre-junkfood, non-automated world, unhealthy weight gain wasn't an issue many people had to think about. I should also make it clear that I am at a healthy weight and I have a completely healthy relationship with food - so don't start fretting!!

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