Eating Right in the Renaissance

By Ken Albala | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Food and Class

The social connotations of food are perhaps the most powerful determinant of dietary preferences. This is especially the case in a nutritional theory whose basis entails the literal incorporation of a food's substance and qualities into the consumer. An item considered gross and crude and associated with the peasantry will render the consumer peasant-like because those same elements that make up the peasant will be absorbed by the consumer. To a courtier, magnificent banquet dishes not only signify wealth, power, and sophistication but transfer those properties directly into the individual diner. An exquisite dish makes the eater exquisite. Thus, the ideal self-image as socially constructed is directly reflected in food prejudices that involve class. To be a true courtier, one must eat as courtiers do. And distance from the courtier's lifestyle is best achieved by choosing a different diet.

In societies that are not rigidly hierarchical, such food prejudices are usually not highly defined. A distinction between eating habits or food styles will only develop in those societies in which individuals or groups feel the need to be delineated or have distinctions imposed upon them. For example, in the Hindu caste system not only separate diets but even whom one may eat with and have one's food prepared by are codified by religious law. In the most extremely stratified societies, foods have powerful social connotations, and crossing the social boundaries in any way threatens the natural order and violates the defining principles of personhood. Individuals can be unnaturally ennobled or debased by eating

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Eating Right in the Renaissance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • California Studies in Food and Culture *
  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Note on Spelling ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Overview of the Genre 14
  • Chapter 2 - Humors, Digestion, and the Physiology of Nutrition 48
  • Chapter 3 - Qualities, Substance, and Virtues 78
  • Chapter 4 - External Factors 115
  • Chapter 5 - Food and the Individual 163
  • Chapter 6 - Food and Class 184
  • Chapter 7 - Food and Nation 217
  • Chapter 8 - Medicine and Cuisine 241
  • Postscript - The End of a Genre and Its Legacy 284
  • Bibliography 295
  • Index 309
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