Oysters and rye bread: Polarising living standards in Flanders, 1800 1860
This article presents the results of an extensive inquiry into urban consumption of foodstuffs in Flanders between 1800 and 1860. The octroi tax, an indirect tax levied on various consumer items, formed the principal source. During the initial phase of Belgian industrialisation the inhabitants of the eight cities under study (Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Courtrai, Ghent, Lokeren, Leuven and Mechelen) experienced a sharp decrease in the consumption of bread grains, meat, fish, beer, wine and gin. A number of other indicators suggest at the same time an accelerated widening of the gap between rich and poor. This process of impoverishment and pauperisation, which occurred in all cities (small or large, industrial or merchant centre), is explained as a result of Malthusian tensions. The rapid population growth, which started around 1750, generated the division of arable land and a sharp increase in land prices. The growing demand for food, stagnating agricultural output, and the trade and agricultural policy of the government led to a significant increase in the price level of foodstuffs. The capitalism hypothesis of Lis and Soly, elaborated for Antwerp, is rejected.
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