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Historical Background

          With the growth of industrialization and the need for a large workforce able to work long hours at a time without proper nutrition, the introduction of food drugs to the working class families allowed them to obtain the energy needed to work the long hours required by factories to obtain large profits. In this essay I will discuss the growth of the industrial revolution as well as the growth of drugs foods and their impact upon the working class families during the late 18th and 19th century.

Fatcat Factory Owner, Rich on the blood

Of his employees

          The industrial revolution brought many great advances and changes to the life of the European working class in the late 18th century. Factories with steam- powered machines that allowed for mass production filled the major capital of every country. To fill the factories, a shift in population was necessary. The urbanization of most West European countries led many families to give up the agricultural life of their ancestors and move to the big cities to work in factories. With the rise of farm productivity in England during the late 18th century, fewer farms were needed to support the population. Between 1700 and 1850 the percentage of families involved in agriculture dropped 30%(1). In other European nations a rapid growth in population caused severe rural unemployment, which drove many families to relocate to large cities.


          The family life of the working class also changed immensely due to the move to from the countryside to the cities. People were forced to work long hours on monotonous jobs which was a change from slow agricultural life of the past. Families now had little time to see each other and share in meals together. The workers were forced into a life of poverty, often living in tenements since cities could not handle the surplus of people. This caused a huge change in the public works necessary to keep cities from starving and to keep their citizens warm.  Many European cities faced shortages of both wood and coal due to the growth of the cities in the 18th and 19th centuries(2).


          Faced with a lack of nutritious food and a lack of a family life, European countries needed a way to keep their workforce still producing productively. The answer they were looking for came from their new world conquests. With the arrival of new world products such as coffee, tea and sugar people could now work the long hours necessary with little food and no breaks. The arrival of caffeine and stimulants led to the decline of an earlier enhancer, alcohol. “Alcohol was commonly used as a labor enhancer on plantations and haciendas, in the mines, in the merchant marine, and during the earliest phase of industrial capitalism in factories(3)”. Unfortunately, the depressant side effects of alcohol and its incapacitating effects led to its decline as a labor enhancer. According to William Jankowiak and Dan Bradburd, “ the rise of industrial capitalism and its more sophisticated technology, the use of alcohol as a labor enhancer lost favor. Moreover, there was often pressure for regulation or even prohibition of its use, and it was replaced (or its use was tempered) by alternative drug foods such as coffee, tea, cocoa and sugar-the latter consumed in combination with any of the above, alongside of them, or alone”(4). With the arrival of new drug foods into the working class life and with the extinction of old ones,  working class life would change dramatically.


          The growth of food drugs was not only from their ability to stimulate work but also the attraction consumers felt due to their exotic nature. In industrial Europe it was seen as “noble and well off” to serve caffeinated beverages at dinner parties. Coffee became a favorite of emerging middle class of professionals, since its caffeine was associated with sobriety and virtue(5). Coffee also allowed for people to show off to friends and family that they could now afford to supply both coffee, tea, and sugar (all three imported from colonies) at the same time. Often times, sugar would be placed in the coffee not to ease the bitterness as in today's culture, but as a show of opulence and wealth. “The caffeine drinks served at European tables were an essential part of the demonstration of colonialism, a visible reminder of the possession of a foreign nation(6)”.


          The arrival of food drugs onto the markets of Europe was a direct cause of the conquest of tropical nations. According to Jamieson “Chocolate was the first caffeine beverage encountered by Europeans in the expansion of empires”(7). The Spanish discovered cocoa during their invasion of South America. South Americans often would use cocoa in religious ceremonies using the caffeine to keep them awakeCoffee Plantation in “trances” to speak to spirits from beyond. Coffee had been used in the Arab world as an expression of masculinity, since the early Turkish coffee houses were for men only. Tea had grown out of the “spheres of influence” in China whereas sugar was cultivated from the colonization of the Caribbean islands and Central America. Again the consumption of the drug foods was done as much as a novelty as it was out of necessity.

                                                                                                                                        Honduras Coffee Plantation

          However, to say that the consumption of drug foods was entirely a free choice for consumers would be forgetting an important part of the consumption history of drug foods. Drug foods had a specific convenient property about them; they were both addictive and their use encouraged immediate consumption, meaning that they were not hoarded or stored, since consumers normally looked forward to their afternoon tea with sugar and would not save these goods for special occasions(8). Drug foods were also necessary for employees, who now had to follow a standardized, regimented work day that usually would involve waking up early, which would require the drinking of the morning cup of coffee. According to Smith, factory productivity studies during the mid 19th century showed that a worker who came to work and drank coffee was more productive and needed fewer breaks than those who consumed beer ( beer soup was a common working class breakfast) for breakfast(9).


          The life of a factory worker was a hard life, which included little pay, long hours and constant harassment from employers and management. The effects of the factory life were also felt in the homes of the workers. Sugar became an important part of the working family's diet, since it provided the energy of a nutritious meal without the need for nutrients. Sugar was also praised for its convenience in the hustle and bustle of the family life. Sweetened preserves that would not sour could now be used to replace 1-2 meals a day. These preserves were favored by children who enjoyed the sweet taste and could make themselves a calorie-filled snack with some jam and bread, and did not need a parent to cook them food. Tea was also marketed using the same idea of convenience and speed, often advertising that grinding machines and expensive brewers needed to make coffee was not necessary to get your caffeine fix(10).


          In conclusion, the arrival of drug foods into the 18th and 19th century markets allowed for capitalism to flourish, and also allowed for major advances in both technology and society. The life of the average factory worker would not get any easier until the arrival of unions and government regulations of working conditions. However, the need for drug foods to handle work is still as prevalent today as it was in the 19th century. The growth of such drug dealers as Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, 7-11, and Wa-Wa shows that we are still the same sugar-loving, caffeine craving, nicotine demanding masses that our ancestors were 200 years ago; only now we pay for it not only in our wallet, but our health.