Grazing: The Satyricon and modern dining

It’s impossible to read Petronius’ banquet description without thinking of life in our own culture.

I recently re-read Satyricon, often regarded as the western world’s first novel, written by Petronius, a member of the court of Nero, toward the end of the 1st century CE. The longest chapter of the satirical book is a description of a banquet hosted by Trimalchio, a freed slave who has become immensely wealthy.

Although Petronius’ motives are controversial, it’s impossible to read the banquet description without thinking of  life in our own culture during the last few years. Generally, the banquet satirizes the excesses of the nouveau riche. Eerily, like dining trends in our own time, Trimalchio is interested in changing the form of food, dressing up offal and turning dining into theater. He’s even into local food – it’s all from his own estates – and he psychologizes dining by pairing his guests with dishes appropriate to their astrological sign.

It is a measure of our time that we observe most of these same phenomena and, with rare exception, regard them only as completely positive, undeserving of even mild critical scrutiny. But I’m taking my cue from Petronius for citing some of the most dubious dining trends of late.

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