Apparently, the theory that people in past centuries refused to eat
raw vegetables for fear of becoming sick (or worse, becoming dead)
began in the mid-nineteenth century. Or, rather, it was true during
that time, at least for some people.
There were possibly two reasons for this. One was the discovery
of germ theory in the 1860s-70s. The second were all those
“celebrities” of the day, such as Isabella Beeton (1836-1865),
author of Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861),
who strongly supported the “don’t eat raw veggies” idea.
Writer Colin Spencer explains it all in his work British Food,
An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History (2002):
There was a belief [in the late 1800s] that raw
or undercooked food was bad for you, since it
harboured germs, and so everything had to be
thoroughly cooked and boiled. Medical opinion
was divided on this, but whatever the experts
said on the subject the public were suspicious
of raw vegetables.
He continues by placing some of the, uh, “blame” on Mrs. Beeton:
Mrs. Beeton fostered this opinion: ‘As vegetables
eaten in a raw state are apt to ferment on the
stomach, and as they have very little stimulative
power upon that organ, they are usually dressed
with some condiments, such as pepper, vinegar,
salt, mustard, and oil. Respecting the use of these,
medical men disagree, especially in reference to oil,
which is condemned by some and recommended
So, yes, some people didn’t eat raw vegetables because they deemed
them highly toxic, but it was pretty much confined to those living
in the late 19th century. At the same time, I imagine there were
many people who bucked the anti-raw-veggie trend and ate them
without a care in the world (and lived to tell about it). In earlier
centuries, of course, vegetables were eaten cooked AND uncooked.
For more about Isabella Beeton, see this great article on fellow food
blogger Cynthia Bertelsen’s site, Gherkins & Tomatoes.
In the meantime, enjoy your raw (or cooked) veggies!