Social Reform, Food and the Laboring Poor: Popular Restaurants in the Low Countries (1860-1920)

Project Details


The economic recession of the last decade has made the social issue of poverty/food into a present-day debate but it is by no means a new matter. As off the 1860s, divers social reformers wanted to give a solution for the problematic food regime of the laboring classes through the organization of cheap restaurants. These were no longer based upon classical charity and wanted to offer an instrument of social betterment to solvent workers (sometimes in a co-operative format). This type of economic restaurants spread in a kind of wave over Belgium and the Netherlands, as a nationally and transnationally connected phenomenon, and the successful ones managed to continue working until at least World War One. As a continuation of my first Belgian research on the matter, we want to investigate profoundly this largely unknown phenomenon (by dint of a rich and largely untouched corpus of sources) for the low countries at large. Five dimensions will be at the core of our research: (1) the social reformers, their networks and their discourse regarding the food problems of the lower social orders; (2) the concrete operation modalities of these people’s restaurants in north and south; (3) the food itself (what, how much, in what relation to the habitual alimentary regime of the workers, taste etc.); (4) the cultural practices of eating out in these cheap restaurants; (5) the clientele that was actually reached (class and status).
Effective start/end date1/10/1730/09/18


  • Food
  • Restaurants
  • Low Countries

Flemish discipline codes

  • History of historical culture