Popish Habits vs. Nutritional Need:
Fasting and Fish Consumption
in Iberia in the Early Modern Period



Regina Grafe





Studies of consumption in early modern Europe fall into two groups. Some have looked at the overall supply of nutritional components to the average consumer in an attempt to trace standards of living. Others have examined the changing demand for particular goods by specific consumers to understand the way in which new goods and cultural and taste changes impacted on the economy. Few have tried to look at the interactions between both. By combining the contradictory evidence coming from supply and demand sides, new interpretations of the evidence emerge. Data on the supply of dried salted codfish (bacalao) to the Iberian markets and data available on the consumption of this good by specific groups of consumers are used to explain how this fish became a staple foodstuff in the Iberian diet. The existing literature has invoked both religion and cheapness as explanatory variables. This paper argues that both played an important role but that the overall increase was ultimately driven by the slow but continuous integration of more consumers into the market between 1600 and 1800.