The Rich and the Poor

In General

During the medieval periods, very distinct difference between the nobles and the peasants existed. The nobles and wealthy were able to obtain a wide variety of nutritious diets carefully prepared by cooks while the peasants must suffer through the few selection of meat and vegetables they can afford. Furthermore, even if a dish is common among both the nobles and the peasants, one could still sense the distinct differences when prepared by the same group. The dish, when prepared by noble, will have rich and carefully selected ingredients prepared in fine and elaborate fashions, served while fresh and tasteful. It could also contain certain variations from the original recipe, due to the addition of expensive imported spices from Asia. On the contrary, the same dish, prepared by peasants, will contain a reduced amount of meat that has been preserved for prolong periods of time, and served in the most basic fashions. The spices used will most likely be limited to salt and honey, with some wild herbs if lucky.

The Rich

The rich enjoyed a relatively wide assortment of food in comparison to the poor. They were able to obtain large amounts of meat in their diet, with domesticated animals being the main source. Amongst the rich, beef, pork and chicken are very common, as they were farmed in large quantities by the peasants who worked for them. Aside from the meat, the choice of fish was also different among the rich and the poor. The rich ate mostly carp and pike, as they do not contain the strong natural stench that resides in many fishes. Certain rivers which can only be only be fished by the nobles provided the bulk of the fish supply, and any illegal fishing resulted in severe penalties. In addition to the restricted rivers, many castles also contain pools in which live fishes are kept to maintain a steady supply of fish when the catch at the river is poor. 

Similar to the meat and fishes, grain products consumed by wealthy individuals are much more refined than the ones of the poor. The rich consumed refined wheat, which is wheat that has been carefully selected and grounded prior to being used. With the refined wheat, softer and sweeter grain products that is somewhat similar to ones consumed today can be made. In addition to domestic agricultural products, the rich and noble also enjoyed many imported goods which were not accessible to the peasants. The majority of the foreign goods consisted of dried food and Asian spices, which were imported through the Middle-East. Most of the spices were imported at extremely high prices, and regarded very preciously at the time. They were usually pepper, sugar, cinnamon, garlic powder and other spices which are common today but were not produced in medieval Europe. Just as the spices, the dried fruits are usually fruits that one can easily find today. Such dried fruits were usually almonds and other exotic Asian fruits that were not produced in Europe at the time.

The Poor

Due to the feudal system, the gap in the social-economic status between the nobles and the peasants is extremely wide. The image of a medieval meal might not be what people usually imagine it to be, crowded tables with people devouring large servings of meat in barbaric fashions. Peasants were reluctant to kill the domesticated animals as they were precious to the farm, instead, they usually hunted to add meat to their diet. In addition, they were only allowed to eat meat four days a week, as Wednesday, Friday and Saturday were ruled as fast days by the church. While most nobles simply ignored such the rule, the peasants were restricted to fishes. Unfortunately, unlike the rich, the peasants obtained all their supply through fishing in the wild as they did not have the luxury of the "Fish Pools" enjoyed by t he rich. Furthermore, since many restrictions were applied to the peasants in terms of fishing, they were often refrained to fishing activities in resource poor rivers where lower quality fishes existed. Mostly, the catch consisted of herrings and eels with the addition of shellfishes when available.

Unlike the rich, who's diet was abundant in meats, the poor relied heavily on grain products to obtain the necessary nutrients. They did not have the refined wheat that was used by the rich, instead, they whatever grain that could be grown. They ate a lot of buckwheat, oats, turnips, nettles, reeds, barley, rye, briars and pea shells, even when they are still green. In addition, the medieval diet also included a large amount of corn, though they were not a large and juicy as the ones we enjoy today.

One fact that people should note is that neither the rich nor the poor consumed much fresh vegetables and fruits. Although during the summer and fall fresh fruits were an important part of the diet to the people of the Middle Ages, not much was eaten during other times. During the medieval times, no form of refrigeration technology existed, thus, much of the food was preserved with salt or honey after the harvest season. As a result, for most of the winter and early spring, that was all the Middle Ages people enjoyed in terms of vegetables and fruits. Furthermore, the people of the medieval times did not have a correct concept of health either, thinking that eating large amounts of meat was the best way to obtain the necessary nutrients. Consequently, the importance of vegetables and fruits was ignored, further diminishing the amount that was consumed.