Simplicity and Performance in Roman Agrarian Foods

Charles Feldman, Prudence Jones

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In this chapter, traditional, local, and simply prepared Roman agrarian foods are discussed. While these rustic comestibles were revered by some elites for their symbolically embodied history and cultural capital, they were in stark contrast to the more ostentatious fare dressing other aristocratic tables. The degree of respect for agrarian fare was contingent on the social philosophy of the consumer. For the poor and destitute the food choice was easy, they ate almost anything. For the elite ancient Roman conservative who espoused values from a heroic past, rustic foods offered a venue for political gain. Though, this noble may not have been as principled when eating in private. An aristocratic debate, sometimes against consuming whole animals, sometimes against eating parts of animals, sometimes against the whole and the part, seemed representative of deeper social issues. The confluence of local and foreign ideology had its effect on consumer preferences and culinary fashion. As long as an ancient Roman food remained intact, recognizable, or natural, it could summon rustic history. When comestibles were masticated or transformed their symbolic meanings moved outside the context of local simplicity, into novelties ascribed to foreign influence. While rustic foods in themselves did not necessarily represent luxury, the local comestible could be manipulated through the artifice of culinary preparation. It was these manipulated foods in particular that evoked mixed messages: traditional by nature, novel through preparation, local yet foreign. The end result, however, would obfuscate historic meanings and, as such, a clear sense of Roman aristocratic identity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Eating and Drinking
Subtitle of host publicationInterdisciplinary Perspectives
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783030145040
ISBN (Print)9783030145033
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


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