My bachelors degree is in history. I’ve always been fascinated by the dramas, motivations and stories of the past. For a while now I’ve been ruminating on what life was like for the poor as time went by. A Mediterranean Feast, the book by Clifford A. Wright I mentioned a few days ago, has gotten my mind racing.
We live in such a rich and productive world. Yes, the economy isn’t great and yes, our incomes don’t allow us to spend the way we did three or so years ago, but my goodness, all the things we have today is really phenomenal if you look historically. In A Mediterranean Feast, Wright speaks of medieval diets. The picture we have of enormous feudal feasts is really quite inaccurate. It may have been true for the rich aristocracy and the papal court, but even then such feasts were rare.
“The twelfth-century aristocracy often ate the same food as…townspeople. In the morning they ate a kind of soup; in the evening it was soup again or a porridge of vegetables, perhaps with a little salt meat. Herbs were used for flavoring savories or, more often, eaten as we would eat vegetables today, while spices remained out of the reach of common people.
Peasants ate more simply than did the townspeople. Their diet was very poor and…their cooking was done outdoors or in public ovens…Millet was the most common food for them. When the bread ran out, famine ensued…In the fifteenth century, cabbage and bread were the main elements of the Italian diet.” pgs. 25-26
Think about what your daily diet consists of. Granted, cabbage and bread isn’t exactly a well balanced or healthy diet and the average life span wasn’t nearly as long as now. Put all that aside though and think about the simplicity of it.
If we ate one or two truly simple dinners a week it would do a great deal. First, it would save us some money. Second, we would rediscover old recipes – reconnecting us with our grand or great-grand mothers and people from the past. Thirdly, and most importantly, if we took care and thought about this simple meal I think our perspective would change, connecting us not only to the past but also to the present – to those who are forced to eat the same or even less everyday.
We are amazingly lucky and rarely recognize it. Try a simple dinner this week. Spend $5 dollars to feed four people. I bet there will be creativity, frustration and careful thought involved.