Re: Food and Famine

Date: Sun 05 Mar 2000 - 22:41:49 EET

>From: John Hughes <>
>Subject: Food, Famine & Sacrifice
>The irrepressible! Gary Switzer:
>(aussies will get the reference, and know exactly what sort of accent to
>say it in. Don't worry Gary, its complimentary.)
>>More on Famine: For the Orlanthi of Dragon Pass there is
>>Food and there is food. Food being mainly the 3 "B's" of
>>Beer, Bread and Beef, with a grudging nod to Mutton.
>>.... if a man can't serve his family a proper
>>meal of Dark Beer, Brown Bread and Boiled Beef he can
>>hardly look them, or the neighbors, in the eye and clearly
>>starvation is in the offing.
>Beef, in my ever so 'umble opinion, is a bit of a luxury for most
>Heortlings. Cattle are far too valuable to eat as a staple,
>Bread is most certainly a staple, along with grain porridge ('frumenty' or
>'pottage'). Beer (it's technically ale) as well.

        I liked a lot of what you had to say about Orlanthi food, except
that I think you over-estimate the amount of meat these people are getting,
even mutton and lamb. It's very difficult to get a handle on just what a
peasant really ate during the Ancient and Medieval periods, since records
simply weren't kept about these sorts of things until the 17th and 18th
centuries. However, most historians generally agree that in many way the
peasant diet varied little between the 9/10th century and the the 17/18th.

Thus some statistics from the 18th century might be of interest to the
        By analyzing the food rations of retired peasants, as stipulated in
support contracts signed by those who took over their farms, we learn that
what was considered a reasonable diet for a retired peasant in parts of
France consisted overwhelming of bread products, supplimented by smalls
amounts of cheese, butter, and salt lard (and supplimented presumably by a
small amount of produce from a garden). The average contract provided for
a total calorie intake of between roughly 1200 to 2400 calories with most

contracts providing around 1500 to 1800 calories. Of these calories,
83-90% came from bread. Most nutritionists calculate that a man doing
moderate labor requires around 2400 calories. Even allowing that the food
rations of the elderly might be smaller than those of peasants in the prime
of life, the implication of this is that most peasants were barely getting
enough food to sustain their labor. A man of 65 kg weight (143 lbs)
requires roughly 65 grams of protein, whereas the contract diets provide
between 38 and 90, with the average being around 47 to 56 grams. Given how
closely famine years correlate with rises in mortality and plague, it seems
very clear that nutritionally, most peasants were living life on the edge,
with only a small percentage of more fortunate peasants eating what today
would be considered a nutritionally adequate diet. Meat is almost totally
lacking from these rations, and is not something that a retired peasant

could easily provide for him/herself.
        So what does all of this mean for Glorantha? Well, Gloranthan
peasants have one advantage of RW peasants, namely that their magically
rituals have a direct and measurable impact of their harvests and
livestock. Given all of the rituals to bless plows, livestock, and fields
to increase yield, ward off pests and crop blight, and to increase
reproduction, these peasants probably get a diet a little closer to an
adequate one, and probably have less trouble with famine, crop blight, and
livestock disease. However, the forces of chaos and disorder are arguably
stronger in Glorantha than they are in the RW, since Gloranthan witches
really can make milk sour and crops wither. This probably balances out
some of the benefits of magic that peasants have access to, and not all
peasants regularly benefit from precious Rune magic. Thus, overall, I
would guess that most Gloranthan peasants are nutritionally better off than

RW ones, but not much more so.
        There is one respect in which RW peasants might be better off than
Gloranthan ones. Starting in the 9th and 10th century, the 3-field system
of crop rotation was introduced, which increased crop yields by helping the
fields regain some of the nitrogen they need. Since Sartar and surrounding
areas are based on early Celts, Germans, and Anglo-Saxons, they probably

don't understand the concept of 3-field rotation, which means that their
crop yields are naturally going to be smaller than RW European peasants.
Thus spells that heighten crop fertility probably only equalize that
difference, rather than giving Gloranthan peasants a superior level of
productivity. Most ancient and medieval farmers enjoyed crop yields of
only about 3.5 to 4 bushels of grain per bushel of seed sown (compared to
modern yields of about 60 to 1).

Andrew E. Larsen


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