Green, leafy vegetables and a handful of nuts dominated the average person’s diet at the turn of the century. Sacramento families in the early 1900s–particularly local African-American families– ate huge amounts of green, leafy vegetables, such as collards stuffed with whole grains and small amounts of seafood or meat. Families extended animal protein by mixing it with grains or mashed potatoes. The rule was more greens, beans, roots, and fruits.
Collards and other leafy greens that could be stuffed and rolled, such as cabbage also were eaten, a surprise, because families in the early 1900s with European ancestry ate leafy greens as cabbage. For example, the Irish staple of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes, in Sacramento at the turn of the century or before turned into whole oat groats cakes and stuffed cabbage rolls with either beans and greens or sometimes whole grains, chopped greens, carrots, and once in a while some cheese for those who couldn’t afford meat or seafood. Check out the site, “The Food Timeline: history notes–pioneer, Civil War, cowboy.”
Dessert usually was sliced fruit
Dessert was peaches sliced, sometimes with cream, when it was available. But dessert rarely was affordable, and staples in diet focused not on the starchy fillers found in fast-foods of today, but in a high amount of leafy greens and carrots, just the vegetables nutritionists recommend for preserving eyesight. Rarely did the families need glasses that ate large amounts of leafy green collards, for example, which could be grown at low cost in most alleys. Sacramento and the regional areas’ Asian immigrants a century ago also ate their native foods such as fish, rice, and vegetables, sometimes pork, tofu, soy sauce, tempeh, and home-made noodles.
That brings Sacramento archaeologists interested in what African-American families ate–families that rented the small alley-based homes in downtown Sacramento, along J St. Archaeology of nutrition also relates what the families did for a living to what foods were popular. The emphasis on green, leafy vegetables rather than an abundance of meats suggest the diets were nutritious for the most part, and closer to what Greek Americans eat than what Sacramentans in 1900 of Northern European ancestry ate.
How else did African-American families renting homes along J St. in Sacramento live at the turn of the century? Local Sacramento archaeologists have unearthed African-American family history from the turn of the century–the early 1900s. Check out the excellent paper, a PDF file, on the Sacramento archaeology of an African-American family living in Sacramento, CA titled, “From Slavery to Freedom.”
It’s from the Dept. of Anthropology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA. The paper was presented in 1994, but it’s online for you to read. Family history and genealogy are part of the fields of anthropology and archaeology.
Richard Jones, said to be more than 100 years old related the story of his grandmother. It’s the story of the African-American Cook family, the husband and his eldest son were barbers, whereas daughter, Virginia worked as a dressmaker. Check out the article on the genealogy, family history, and archaeology of this family and other African-American families in Sacramento during the early 20th century.
The paper outlines the gap between the African American and white families at the turn of the 20th century in Sacramento. It details the way the families lived, and the archaeology of their possessions. At the time barbering was a high status occupation for African-American families as was dressmaking, which often included fashion design as well as working with and making alterations with patterns. See, “Why Are We Eating so Much More Than We Used to?”
If you look at the weight of Average Americans in the mid 1890’s, compiled by the American insurance companies that began to record the heights and weights of men and women seeking life insurance. From the mid-1890s to the mid-1970’s, the weights of typical American men and women remained remarkably constant.
During the past 80 years, the average middle-aged woman weighed 145-150 pounds, and the average man, 165-170 pounds. Then the explosion of obesity ran wild beginning in the mid-1970’s. The average weights of Americans suddenly spiked and surged like sugar in the bloodstream. Currently, the average man or woman today weighs 25 pounds more. As we all participate in the American obesity epidemic, almost everyone is heavier today than their counterparts of 40 years earlier.
And 100 years earlier, people weighed less and ate less starchy fillers and transfats. The fats eaten included rendered chicken fat with the Eastern European immigrants, butter with the Northern European immigrants, and olive oil with the Southern European immigrants, for starters. Americans also used coconut oil, and some used sesame seed oil if they came from countries in the Middle East or India.
Those who had less access to butter or couldn’t afford it, used bacon fat, saved in a can in the pantry. And Hispanics at the turn of the century cooked more with lard mixed with flour or corn meal. Not that bacon fat is healthy, but if you have the genetic predisposition to tolerate lard versus olive oil or sesame seed oil, your body either removed the fat or let it build up in your arteries.
Hardening of the arteries has been with humans for thousands of years, based on diet and genetic predisposition. Also the number of cholesterol receptors on your liver and the size of your LDL particles has a lot to do with what gets clogged in your arteries or passes through. Depending on the genes, some people don’t tolerate specific fats and oils the way some other people do, and others do better with flax seed meal or fish oil, or even just enough oils in balance between omega 3, 6, 7, and 9 fats to keep bodies in balance and systems working to their health potential. (Never heard of omega -7 fatty acids? See this site, “Seven Things You Need to Know About Omega-7 Fatty Acids.”)
Food and utensil archaeology in Sacramento
The archaeological evidence, according to the paper, “From Slavery to Freedom,” revealed the family’s responses to any racism that was experienced at the turn of the 20th century in Sacramento. Following the end of the Civil War, Mr and Mrs Cook made the long journey to Sacramento with at least two of their children. From 1901 to 1909, Mr and Mrs Cook and their children rented a small alley house on J St.
The address is given in the PDF file article. Read the entire story online, “From Slavery to Freedom.” The article tells their life story as well as the archaeology of their belongings left in Sacramento and dug out by local archeologists, and their life as told by an relative, Mr. Richard Jones. It’s a fascinating history of African-American family life and occupations in the early 1900s in Sacramento, CA.