That ‘Breakfast’ Line In Napoleon Means More Than You Think

The Napoleonic era comes hot on the heels of the age of exploration, when European sailors spread out across the globe, often sailing for months and even years cooped up in rickety wooden ships. This led to a lot of struggles with poor health. Scurvy is the famous malnutritional disease that was a scourge of sailors, but a lack of vitamin C was just the tip of the iceberg. Shortages and limited food choices were common, especially amongst commercial shipping where merchants were more likely to reduce food quality to improve profit margins.

As naval leaders gained more experience, they began feeding their sailors better, and by the time of the late 18th and early 19th centuries (when “Napoleon” takes place), the British had become particularly adept at keeping their seamen in good health. In fact, they are historically considered to be some of the most nutritiously well-fed individuals in the world at the time.

British sailors were fed a well-rounded diet that included biscuits, beef, pork, peas, oatmeal, butter, and cheese. At times, these would be swapped out depending on where the ships were stationed (chickpeas might be used instead of peas, for instance). Regardless of the specific ingredients, the diet was significantly better than land-based fare, and the food was kept flowing at all times and on all British ships. Did we mention that alcohol was also a staple, with sailors getting a gallon of beer, a pint of wine, or half a pint of spirits per day? Life at sea might not be easy, but the dinner table was to die for.

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