This post supplements the three-part article I did on the traditional diet of the Scottish Highlanders, their prowess in battle, and how the traditional Highland way of life was destroyed by the industrial agriculture of the day. The three-part article was posted on the excellent Hartke Is Online blog, and links to the articles are posted below.
Unlike other Europeans, the Scottish Highlanders had plentiful meat in their diet. The traditional Highland diet, described in Part 1 of the three-part article, also had a valuable feature that was missing from almost all the other diets eaten in Europe—free access to meat, wild game, and wild fish. Under the traditional system in the Scottish Highlands, the land was owned by the clans, though its use was given to individual families within the particular clan. Everyone in the clan could hunt the wild game that was so plentiful in the spring, summer, and early fall. Everyone could fish in the many small rivers, ponds, and lakes, which were full of wild fish most of the year. Every Highland farmer could kill some of his herd animals and salt their meat in preparation for the long winter.
This was very different from England, indeed from the rest of Europe, where wild game was considered the exclusive property of the King, or the nobles, or the rich landowners, and common folk were prevented from hunting by anti-poaching laws. Poaching (the crime of hunting game that belonged to the rich and powerful) often came with the death penalty. A peasant who killed a rabbit to feed his hungry family could be executed for doing so. The right to fish in a particular body of water was also heavily restricted, and a man who violated the fishing restrictions also faced death. While many peasants raised farm animals for meat, the animals were usually sold so the peasant could pay his taxes, and meat was rarely eaten by most of the population. In fact, in Ireland at the time, the family pig was often called “the gentleman who pays the rent.”
Though the death penalty was removed from anti-poaching laws in the nineteenth century, armed gamekeepers prevented most Europeans from hunting. Meat remained very expensive and usually unaffordable for most people, who were condemned to eat a diet consisting mostly of grains and vegetables. Many Europeans immigrated to the United States because they heard that even the poor could afford meat there, and hunt.
The situation in the Highlands changed with the Clearances, where restrictions on hunting and fishing where imposed along with the Clearances, which drove the Highlanders from their land as detailed in Part 3: Destruction of the Scottish Food Culture in the Highlands
But traditionally, the Highlanders had free access to wild game, wild fish, and the meat of their herds, which made them unique in Europe at the time. Game, fish, and meat were a large part of their traditional diet, and an important part of their incredible health, size, strength, and vitality, as shown in Part 2: Well Fed Scottish Warriors Waged Fierce Battles
The series begins with a description of the traditional Highland diet in Part 1: Scottish Highlanders Traditional Diet
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