Tea Harlots

I found this hilarious story on Emily Brand's "History of Love" blog here. You should really read her article instead of my poxy little reblog. Sister be funny.

Anyway, in the article she discusses something about which I had absolutely no idea: there was a strong anti-tea movement in 18th-century England. I knew that at one time or another, there were anti-coffee and anti-smoking movements, but anti-tea? This is ENGLAND, for god's sake! Tea is at least 4 of the 5 main food groups (the other being, of course, 'boiled things') (I joke) (sort of) (in the '50s it was, okay? Shut up).

But after the first wave of rapid British colonial expansion in the 17th century, I suppose it makes sense that that popular foreign products might make some people back home suspicious. It's a "them-vs.-us" idea, where the generic "people over there"  have constitutions that can handle certain things, but we can't–it'll make us sick.

Or, conversely, it's the reason why we're "better"–the "people over there" were able to be conquered, and that's because they eat this suspicious food product, which somehow has properties to make them weak, unhealthy, or morally inferior.

You'd be amazed at some of the reasons people have given for imperialism. The mental gymnastics are so impressive they should compete in the Olympics.

As a side note, my fiance's grandmother, who is a proper Little Englander and has never set foot outside the country, absolutely shocked me by revealing that she'd never eaten pasta or rice once, because it's "foreign muck" that she has absolutely no interest in trying. Why would she eat that weird, unhealthy stuff when she can have good, hearty English meat, potatoes, and pastry?

So this is a very prevalent attitude that still actually affects people today. ANYWAY, back to the tea.

Emily Brand writes:

"This terrible foreign invader encouraged young men to stay “a lurking in the bed” rather than earning an honest wage. It turned women to harlotry and insolence, caused atrocious child neglect, and was armed to carry everyone off to their grave a decade early.

"The philanthropist Jonas Hanway lamented that 'Men seem to have lost their stature, and comliness; and women their beauty. Your very chambermaids have lost their bloom, I suppose by sipping tea.' But social reformer William Cobbett’s fevered rant about the moral and national implications of tea-drinking was even more vehement (emphasis my [Emily Brand's] own):

“'Tea drinking fills the public house, makes the frequenting of it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does little less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel… the girl that has been brought up merely to boil the tea kettle, and assist in the gossip inseparable from the practice, is a mere consumer of food, a pest to her employer, and a curse to her husband, if any man be so unfortunate as to fix his affections upon her.'

"In short, Cobbett viewed the plant 'as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth and a maker of misery for old age.'

"And the solution to this terrible moral poison? Every household brewing its own 'good and wholesome Beer.' Obviously."

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2 Responses to Tea Harlots

  1. hearts_blood says:

    she’d never eaten pasta or rice once, because it’s “foreign muck”

    See, that’s just so bizarre to me, because I have SEEN Victorian householding manuals that include both pasta and rice in their lists of various food staples that every good housekeeper should have in stock.

    I mean… rice. Curry! Kedgeree! RICE PUDDING, for the love of God!


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