After The Deluge…Part 3: Food

Post-apocalyptic food. Is it ever mentioned? Rarely, except where it has been reduced to a joyless protein pill that meets all a human’s nutritional needs or the terrifying Soylent Green. Speaking personally food is one of the great pleasures. I am sure, even in these neurotic times, I am not alone. Why should a recovering world abandon one of the strongest threads of human history?

Historically, food was central to society. Beyond mere nourishment, food was display, power politics, theatre, art. Start with what we all know about the Romans: feasting. There are extant Roman recipe books – Apicius is the most famous. They had worked out the need for a separate room to cook in and ways of producing controlled heat to enable them to have a sophisticated cuisine – try a Roman supper. Letters recovered from archaeological sites like Vindolanda attest to the importance of food, to impress, to flatter, to make a cold and boring posting tolerable.

Saxon poetry and prose also attest to the importance for a king or leader to hold a good table. The mead hall bound men to a leader – they could not eat his meat and drink his ale and then abandon him in battle.

Medieval cookery is very clearly, for the wealthy, about show and prestige. The sheer volume of food supplied at the great Castles and Palaces of the period for feast days and holidays is incredible; at Christmas 1251, Henry III and his guests were served 830 deer, 200 wild boar, 1,300 hares, 385 young pigeons and 115 cranes; and that was just the wild game, farmed animals were used in addition. Surviving court cookery books, like The Forme of Cury, are clear that great sophistication, as well as great volume, was required. Other accounts say much about the show made at feasts; how the food was brought to table in pageants and in strange forms to amuse the guests.

I cannot believe that this tradition / human need to be interested in the joy of food, nor the use of food as a tool in power politics, would be abandoned in a rebuilding world. Quite the reverse. The politics of such a world, the world of Renaissance, is, like the Middle Ages, the politics of the personal and the ability to flatter and entrance.

thumbnail Renaissance cover

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