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wealhtheow

wealhtheow

Currently reading

The Theory of the Leisure Class (Modern Library Classics)
Thorstein Veblen, Alan Wolfe
Feast: A History of Grand Eating - Roy C. Strong A history of upper class meals and the customs surrounding them, from antiquity to the present. The book almost entirely deals with Western Europe, particularly England, Italy, and France. It's a very scattershot view; there are a few tasty tidbits of knowledge, but they're so randomly chosen and so unorganized in presentation that it was hard to get a good overall picture of the subject. It's not clear what Strong's thesis or even true subject is, since sometimes he talks about formal feasts alone, while at other times he expands his view to all upper class meals, or even to dinner in general.

This is the basic gist I gleaned: feasts in Ancient Greece and Rome were men's affairs, very long and with live entertainment. As with everything else, feasts at the end of the Roman Empire had gotten really ridiculously opulent. The "barbarian hordes" that took down the Empire in the West brought in their own style of feasting, which focused on drinking. The food was no longer honey-drenched doormice stuffed with herbs, but instead simply prepared hunks of meat. In the medieval ages, nobles and the clergy often silently ate while others read to them (usually the Bible). By this time, people had discovered ancient texts and were recreating Roman tastes and obeying the idea of different foods being linked to different humors, which were in turn linked to health. By the Renaissance, the feasts got even more ridiculous (see my status updates for a few details, but suffice to say they involve models of churches made of meat and pastry, with stuffed birds standing in for a church choir, or flame bursting forth from mythical animals' mouths), and the point of the dishes was presentation, not taste. These luxurious feasts and displays continue, but with the rise of a middle class the upper class emphasized manners and taste over display in order to keep out the new rich. After WWI wasteful ostentation was cut back, and cut back further (at least in England) post WWII. And nowadays, few people eat dinner together, and host dinners at restaurants instead of within their own homes.