In her book, How The Other Half Ate, historian Katherine Turner says that at the turn of the twentieth century, meat was a luxury for newcomers:
“European immigrants [were] accustomed to eating meat only a few times a year.”
Eggs, milk, cheese, and butter were also not common. The majority of Americans at the time were working class* and could not afford to purchase much. As well, they had no refrigeration to keep perishable foods from going bad. Eggs were only available, and so affordable, “for a few weeks in the summer.”
As to milk:
“Before the late nineteenth century, milk produced in cities was commonly “swill milk” from urban cows fed inexpensively on food scraps or on the mash left over from brewing, which gave their milk a sour taste.”
So, if we are to eat like our great-grandparents, as Michael Pollan implores, we are to eat a diet with little animal food, heavy in starchy foods like bread, potatoes, and oatmeal.
* In her book, Turner states that the majority of Americans in the early 1900s were working-class. That makes the title of her book, although catchy, perhaps misleading. I get the feeling not just half but most Americans had difficulty getting any food on the table, and spent close to half their income doing it. There is a romance about how our forebears ate that doesn’t pan out in reality.