In chapter 5, we get the merest glimpse of the sort of strife that occurred among people living in such close quarters. Jack London describes a fight among primarily women that occurred in the yard behind his room as he went about his writing for the day. He’d been in the midst of expressing his views on the downward spiral individuals, and indeed, generations had experienced in “the abyss,” how poor nutrition and lack of hope had sapped the strength of a people he saw as essentially strong, capable human beings. The anger involved in the fight outside seemed to have little vitality, although blows were traded and rocks used as weapons. The author didn’t appear to be alarmed, perhaps because he knew that those at odds hadn’t had sufficient nutrition to do each other real harm.
Many of the poor, who were lucky to have a bit of meat maybe once a week and fresh vegetables somewhat more frequently, ate mostly carbohydrates in the form of potatoes, bread, and alcohol. One inexpensive and rather tasteless delivery system for carbohydrates was flour stirred into water to form a quick and easy liquid meal. That may not sound like much today, but it was not uncommon among the poor in the past.
The poor often ate food that those of a higher station would not. Trotters were sheep’s feet, with the fur blanched off. Mmmm—sounds delicious, all that pale, naked sheep skin! Broxy was the meat of diseased sheep, sold for less than that of the healthy animals. Those in service in a higher class household could apply for something called pig wash. Anything that had been served at the family table, had not been totally consumed, and was no longer wanted would be considered pig wash; a joint of meat that was going bad, moldy vegetables and bread—that sort of thing. Basically leftovers in a time in which little was refrigerated—certainly nothing belonging to the poor.
Again, many saw alcoholic drink as a reasonable alternative to eating meats and vegetables. Although knowledge of microbial life and the dangers it posed were still not well understood by the general public in 1902, the health risk from rotting food was. With alcoholic drink as food, at least people knew they wouldn’t get sick. The lesson of alcohol as something to purify had been well-learned during periods of mass death in the city from water-born illness like cholera. Before the modern sewer system was built, many of the people of London had taken the habit of putting gin in their water, even for children.
—Alan M. Clark
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Author and illustrator Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com