I get so incredibly frustrated with our incredible blindness to the past. I do it. I am a historian to a degree, and I know that I read about the past with rose colored glasses sometimes. But the incredible, blind spot that seems to overtake people when it comes to health and diet is just absolutely amazing.
We consistently hear that our diets are to blame for grave unhealthiness in this country, which of course is "caused" by obesity. It is true that our diets are more plentiful than they ever have been. But here are other truths:
1. We have a more varied diet than at any time in the history of the planet. My people were farmers 100 years ago. They did not have olive oil (which is so heart healthy). They did not eat greens (jello when it came along was a salad). They ate corn and white flour. Their fruits and veggies were primarily canned for most of the year in sugar and salt. They used lard consistently and drank milk straight from the cow.
2. There was no consistent refrigeration, yet, during the summer which meant that meat went bad more often, and people would sometimes still eat it (why do you think the French came up with so many heavy sauces?). Fish, unless your creek or river was stocked, was rare.
3. Water was not purified very well. Most people got water from wells on their land. Since they also had their livestock and their outhouses on the same land, imagine how nummy that must have been. Water born illnesses killed a lot of people before modern water sanitation services.
None of this was helpful to the overall health of people, indeed the life expectancy was about 58 in 1900, whereas today it's 77 years. That seems to speak for itself.