Thursday, June 2, 2011

The art of eating together - conviviality

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 Giulio Romano, Amore e PsichePalazzo Te a Mantova.
 Conviviality is seen as a distinguishing sing between animals and humans. Since prehistoric times, people have gather to find food, to cook food and to eat together. Not only is this conviviality a sign of civilization but also a  sign of social status. The richer the meal, the higher the class.

Even since the neolithic revolution, when societies started to settle and aggregate around fertile lands, forming communities and building cities, people have organized parties. These parties, called banquets, were very often a privilege of the ruling classes. Until the second half of the 20th century, food was consumed for survival all over the world. And is still a problem til these days in some parts of the world. So, only the rich could afford to throw a party.  Some foods were considered a sign of luxury and abundance.

During centuries, the banquets of the rich served multiple purposes: to show off, to make friends, to indebt someone or to pay respect. And not everybody invited to the party had the same treatment, like today. There were discrimination as we would put it in modern times. The guests were separated by social status: there were sovereigns, and vassals, there were servants and employees. There were even gods invited to come and they were a set at a separate table (later, when the party was over and the guests were gone, the host would eat the meat reserved for those gods).

The hierarchy and power position among the participants at a banquets was shown through the place everyone sat at the table. The higher the position in society, the better place at the banquet table and also the better the food.

A very successful party or a very important one was often recorded in writing to be remembered by the posterity. That’s how we know now when it took place, where, who came to the banquets, what kind of food was served and in what quantities (because the bigger the quantity, the richer the host) and what other events took place, if any.

Over time, conviviality became an art to be learned and shown.  
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