An Ancient Tirade on Gluttony That Still Rings True—History’s Lesson on Carbon Food-Prints
Food traveled far in the Roman empire. Today, it likewise travels from far-off places to feed our exotic tastes. There may be some lessons to learn from history.
Gluttony, food orgies, wastefulness, and the like were common as the Roman Empire declined. Many Romans, and not just the emperors, ate exotic foods. Historians, such as Suetonius, described the dishes, containing ingredients from the far reaches of the empire—hummingbird tongues, pike liver, brains of pheasant and peacock, flamingo tongue, and more.
Giraffe was on menus in the Roman city of Pompeii. The giraffe meat would have traveled 2,998 miles (4,823 kilometers) from Nigeria.
The Eat Low Carbon website helps us figure out the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the lengthy transport (or means of production) of our common foods. For example, on the lower end of the scale, seasonal fruit scores 84 points and a Philly Cheesesteak scores 3,228 points (partly because cows emit methane gas). The points represent a measurement of the overall carbon toll, the “carbon dioxide equivalent.”
It is probably the only food measure in which sugar cookies score relatively well, with only 177 points.
Plato Extols Temperance
Plato, as painted by Raphael in “The School of Athens,” 16th century. (Wikimedia Commons)
While the Romans had a diet with a high carbon food-print, like many of us do today, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato extolled the virtues of temperance and moderation in eating. Plato linked the end of the Persian empire to the festive Persian lifestyle. Ancient Greeks ate little meat and never drank wine pure, but would always mix it with water. Greeks emphasized food etiquette as a sign of being highly civilized.
Plato said: “In order then that disease might not quickly destroy us, and lest our mortal race should perish without fulfilling its end–intending to provide against this, the gods made what is called the lower belly, to be a receptacle for the superfluous meat and drink, and formed the convolution of the bowels, so that the food might be prevented from passing quickly through and compelling the body to require more food, thus producing insatiable gluttony and making the whole race an enemy to philosophy and culture, and rebellious against the divinest element within us.” (Timaeus, 72e-73a)
How to Consider Your Carbon Food-Print and a Different Kind of Low-Carb Diet
1. Try to eat all the food you buy, to reduce waste.
2. Eat food that is in season and locally made.
3. Mooove away from beef and cheese.
4. Try not to buy food that was shipped by air.
5. Cut down on processed and packaged food.