Nope, you did not misread the title. During the Middle Ages, people ate two meals — a midday meal and an evening meal. But a morning meal? Eating a morning meal was considered “praepropere” or the sin of eating too soon which was equated with gluttony, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Exception was granted to children, the sick, the old and the laborers who needed the additional sustenance. The rest had to patiently wait for the midday meal to ease pangs of hunger.
So people ate no breakfast in the past? Well, the “past” is a broad term. While breakfast was considered unnecessary as a result of the teachings of the Catholic Church, before the rise of Catholicism, people did eat breakfast. The ancient Greeks had their ariston (later, the akratisma) soon after sunrise. The ate tagenites — pancakes made with white wine (wow!) and curdled milk. The ancient Romans enjoyed their jentaculum at dawn which often consisted of leftovers from the previous evening’s meal.
Elsewhere in the world where life did not revolve around Catholic teachings, people probably never gave up breakfast at any point in time.
But… BUT HOW did people manage? At a time when electricity had yet to be discovered and human activities revolved around sunlight, how did people do their work from sunrise until noon when the Catholic Church said it was okay to have their first meal? With a lot of sacrifice and physical discomfort, I presume.
The thing about this Catholic teaching that eating before noon was a sign of gluttony was that it discriminated against the working classes — the people who had to wake up at the crack of dawn and start working. The royalty, nobility and wealthy who had no significant reason to get out of bed so early (especially if they spent their nights gambling, dancing, drinking and doing all other things they did for amusement) could well afford to stay in bed until noon and go straight to lunch.
The Middle Ages with its medieval beliefs lasted a thousand years. The era ended at around the same time when colonial Europe started shipping home exotic food and drinks from the colonies. Tea, coffee and chocolate found their way into the European diet.
Europe’s elite was badly smitten. The English addiction to tea led to the Opium Wars. Pope Clement VIII eventually declared there was nothing wrong with drinking coffee despite the Catholic Church having referred to in the past as Satan’s drink because of its association with the Muslims.
Meanwhile, Europe’s obsession with chocolate finally led to the demise of the teaching that it was sinful to eat before noon.
By the late 1600’s, the grand ladies of the land had become so fond of this frothy beverage that they were accustomed to having it served to them frequently, even in church. As justification for their enjoyment, they referred to its medicinal use, and claimed it prevented fainting and “weakness” during the long ceremonies… Eventually, in 1662, Pope Alexander VII put a final solution to the affair when he declared “Liquidum non frangit jejunum.” [Liquids (including chocolate) do not break the fast.]
Soon, breakfast consisted of more than liquid drinks.
By the 17th century, eating breakfast was well entrenched in the European way of life. During the Dutch Golden Age, many still life paintings depicted breakfast.