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Northern European Diet
The countries of northern Europe include the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), the Republic of Ireland (now a sovereign country), and France. (Although southern France is generally considered to be part of southern Europe, it will be included in this discussion.) These countries are all part of the European Union. England and France have a very diverse population due to the large number of immigrants from former colonies and current dependent territories. Catholicism and Protestantism are the dominant religions.
Eating Habits and Meal Patterns
The northern European diet generally consists of a large serving of meat, poultry, or fish, accompanied by small side dishes of vegetables and starch. The traditional diet is high in protein, primarily from meat and dairy products. The diet tends to be low in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Immigrants from this region of the world brought this eating pattern to North America and it still influences the ‘‘meat and potatoes’’ American meal. The influence of each country’s food habits on each other is also extensive.
English cuisine was primarily shaped during the Victorian era. The diet relies heavily on meats, dairy products, wheat, and root vegetables. The English are famous for their flower gardens, but they are also known for their kitchen gardens, which yield an abundance of herbs and vegetables. Breakfast is very hearty and generally consists of bacon, eggs, grilled tomato, and fried bread. Kippers (smoked herring) are also popular at breakfast. Many Britons still partake in afternoon tea, which consists of tiny sandwiches (no crust) filled with cucumber or watercress, scones or crumpets with jam or clotted cream, cakes or tarts,
(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.)
and a pot of hot tea. Tea shops abound in England, Wales, and Scotland, and Britons drink about four cups of tea a day. Coffee is also very popular with the younger generation.
The pub (short for ‘‘public house’’) is a central part of life and culture in the United Kingdom (Britain has over 61,000 pubs). British pubs are very cozy and homey, and they are famous for their beers, which are very strong. Pubs also serve food. The most common British pub meal is the ‘‘ploughman’s lunch,’’ named for traditional farmworkers. It consists of a large chunk of cheese, a hunk of homemade bread, pickled onion, and ale. Other popular menu items are shepherd’s pie, Cornish pastry, Stargazy pie, and Lancashire hot pot. Britain’s most famous dish is fish and chips, traditionally made with cod or pollack. There are some 8,500 fish-and-chip shops across the United Kingdom—they outnumber McDonald’s eight to one.
Scottish cuisine is centered on fresh raw ingredients such as seafood, beef, game, fruits, and vegetables. Porridge, or boiled oatmeal, is usually eaten for breakfast. It is cooked with salt and milk—Scots do not usually eat their oatmeal with sugar or syrup.
The Aberdeen-Angus breed of beef cattle is widely reared across the world and is famous for rich and tasty steaks. Scottish lamb also has an excellent international reputation. Game such as rabbit, deer, woodcock, and grouse also plays an important role in the Scottish diet. Fish and seafood are abundant due to the numerous seas, rivers, and lochs (lakes). Scottish kippers and smoked salmon are international delicacies. As in other parts of the United Kingdom, there are numerous tea shops. Scotland is also known for its excellent whiskey and cheeses.
Scotland’s national dish is haggis, which is made from sheep’s offal. The windpipe, lungs, heart, and liver of the sheep are boiled and then minced. The mixture is then combined with beef suet and oatmeal. The mixture is placed inside the sheep’s stomach, which is then sewn shut and boiled.
The food in Wales is pretty much the same as in Britain or Scotland, but there are a number of specialties. The leek (a vegetable) is a national emblem and is used in a number of dishes. St. David is the patron saint of Wales and the leek is worn on St. David’s Day, March 1, a national holiday. Potato is a dietary staple. Fish and seafood are abundant, especially trout and salmon. Popular dishes in Wales include Welsh rarebit (or rabbit), poacher’s pie, faggots (made from pig liver), Glamorgan sausage (which is actually meatless), and Welsh salt duck.
The island of Ireland consists of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is a state that covers approximately five-sixths of the island, while the remaining sixth of the island is known as Northern Ireland and is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is predominantly Protestant and the Republic of Ireland is predominantly Catholic.
Milk, cheese, meat, cereals, and some vegetables formed the main part of the Irish diet before the potato was introduced to Ireland in the seventeenth century. The Irish were the first Europeans to use the potato as a staple food. The potato, more than anything else, contributed to the population growth on the island, which had less than 1 million inhabitants in the 1590s but had 8.2 million in 1840. However, the dependency on the potato eventually led to two major famines and a series of smaller famines.
The potato is still the staple food in Ireland, though other root vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, and onions, are eaten when in season. A traditional Irish dish is colcannon, made of mashed potatoes, onions, and cabbage. It came to the United States in the 1800s with the huge wave of Irish immigration, and is often served on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). Corned beef and cabbage are also eaten on St. Patrick’s Day.
Breakfast is a large meal, usually consisting of oatmeal porridge, eggs, bacon, homemade bread, butter, and preserves. Strong black tea with milk and sugar is served with all meals. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is usually eaten at home with the whole family. Lunch is often a hearty soup, followed by meat, potatoes, vegetable, bread, and dessert. Afternoon tea is still common. A light supper is served later in the evening. Irish pubs are known throughout the world for their vibrant and friendly atmosphere. There are many different types of pubs, including dining pubs, music pubs, and pubs with accommodations (room and board). Irish whiskey and ale are also world-renowned.
One of modern France’s greatest treasures is its rich cuisine. The French have an ongoing love affair with food. Families still gather together for the Sunday midday feast, which is eaten leisurely through a number of appetizers and main courses. Most French meals are accompanied by wine.
German cuisine has influenced French cuisine in the east and northeast parts of the country. Beer, sausage, sauerkraut, and goose are very popular, for example (goose fat is used for cooking). Famous dishes from these regions include quiche Lorraine and goose liver pâtê (pâtê defois gras). The south of France borders the Mediterranean Sea, and the cuisine in this region is similar to that of Spain and Italy. Olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and fresh vegetables are all widely used. Famous dishes from this region are black truffeles, ratatouille, salade Nifoise, and bouillabaisse.
The French eat three meals a day and rarely eat snacks. They usually eat a light continental breakfast consisting of a baguette (French bread) or croissant with butter or jam. Strong coffee with hot milk accompanies breakfast (sometimes hot chocolate). Lunch is the largest meal of the day. Wine is drunk with lunch and dinner, and coffee is served after both meals. France is also known for its exquisite desserts such as crime brulee and chocolate mousse.
Cardiovascular disease (e.g., coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension) is the most common cause of death in these countries, and smoking rates are high. Obesity is the fastest growing chronic disease, especially among children. Alcoholism is high, especially among the Irish.
France’s low rate of heart disease has been termed the ‘‘French Paradox.’’ The theory is that France’s low rate of heart disease is due to the regular consumption of wine, despite the high intake of saturated fats. However, recent evidence suggests that the rate of heart disease in France may have been underestimated and underreported, for while the rate of heart disease is lower in France than most countries, it is still the number one cause of death in France. In addition, the consumption of saturated fat has increased, which will eventually result in increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), regardless of wine intake.
Kittler, P. G., and Sucher, K. P. (2001). Food and Culture, 3rd edition. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth.
Frommer’s. ‘‘Great Britain.’’ Available from <http://www.frommers.com/destinations/greatbritain>
Diners Digest. ‘‘English Food.’’ Available from <http://www.cuisinenet.com/glossary/england.html>
Linnane, John (2000). ‘‘A History of Irish Cuisine.’’ Available from <http://www.ravensgard.org/prdunham/irishfood.html>
Delores C.S. James