Monday, October 2, 2006

Res Rusticae

A few classical thoughts about the Goat Lady ...

The people who were selling their stuff yesterday are very knowledgeable not only about res rusticae ("country things"), but also about city slickers.

The pig guy at the pigsty was talking about the "omega three" fats in the whey-fed pigs; the organic gardeners were talking about sustainable agriculture; the family that owns the farm has sold an agricultural easement on it to the Nature Conservancy; many of the cheeses they sell have French names ... I could go on.

Let's just say that their product and lifestyle they're selling seems aimed to appeal to a very specific urban demographic.

It might appear that this situation -- with savvy, entrepreneurial rural folk highly attuned to the culinary and lifestyle preferences of an urban elite -- is a thoroughly modern affair. But it isn't.

The Roman writers Varro and Columella both wrote (highly entertaining) agricultural handbooks* whose target audience was gentleman farmers, owners of beautiful country villas, who were raising and selling luxury foods to the Roman upper class: exotic fowl, fish, honey, wine, and olive oil, along with such delicacies as snails and dormice.

The more things change ...

*Cato the Elder also wrote one, but he didn't approve of luxury.

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