The following excerpt is from Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen (1976), in which the author describes the modernization of France between 1870 and 1914:
“By 1919 even the high mountains had been won over. At Bêne, near Tour-de-Carol, the ruins of an unfinished oven still stood a few years ago where the owner of Esteva’s farm began to build one in that year and left it uncompleted: mute witness to one of the great revolutions of our century. By that time, only 7 or 8 percent of the family budget went for bread, against nearly 40 percent in 1800 and 20 percent in 1850.”
Discuss the above excerpt in light of our discussion of food and nutrition in developing countries.
Here, students had to answer on the basis of two concepts. The first is Engel’s Law, the empirical regularity according to which as incomes increase, the average household’s budget share of food — that is, the proportion of income spent on food — decreases.
The second is Bennett’s Law, the empirical regularity according to which as incomes increase, the average household tends to substitute away from coarse grains (e.g., barley, and sorghum) toward finer grains (e.g., rice or wheat). At higher levels of development, the average household tends to substitute away from carbohydrates (e.g., grains) toward protein (e.g., meat). These observations are due to Merrill K. Bennett, who wrote about it in a now-obscure 1941 study titled “Wheat in National Diets.”
Back to the excerpt from Peasants into Frenchmen, it helps to remember that in 1870, France was not yet the modern, industrialized country it became in the first half of the 20th century. As such, it makes sense that as France was modernizing (i.e., developing), patterns of food consumption would follow both Engel’s Law and Bennett’s Law.