The subject of this book occurred almost accidentally. After finishing my first book, The Economy of Obligation, I intended to take the themes of that work forward into the eighteenth century, looking at the origin of local banking and networks of trust. While that work has continued, some years ago I became interested in the consumption of the labouring poor through my work into wage payments and research done for the chapter in The Economy of Obligation which examined household consumption and market transactions. There I was very surprised at the amount of meat consumed and the high numbers of butchers in early modern towns such as King's Lynn. I presented this information in a quite rudimentary form at a conference in 2000, where the argument for a relatively high level of meat consumption was met with scepticism, if not downright incredulity. Some years later, this spurred me on to do much more research into diets, which in turn led me to consider Robert Fogel's work on human energy. I then attempted to think of human energy in the same way as Tony Wrigley has analysed the input of animal energy into agricultural production.
The study of labourers' inventories also stemmed from work done for The Economy of Obligation using probate inventories. When researching in the Hampshire Record Office I noticed that there were much larger numbers of labourers' inventories than I thought existed. Subsequently I found out that Leigh Shaw-Taylor had discovered labourers' inventories in Northampton and Lincolnshire.