Social Hierarches Associated with Food During the Middle Ages

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Chapter 3 Social Hierarchies within Cuisine

Section One (Economy – Agriculture) 4 pgs
The economy during the sixteenth century in Tuscany blossomed as a result of the thriving trade industry. The trade industry allowed people to experience the best of both the native Tuscan ingredients and the exciting foreign products. The natural Tuscan landscape allowed the farmers and peasants to cultivate their main ingredients: bread, olives, olive oil, and grapes. Growing all the key crops, which were necessary to survive, allowed the merchants free range to trade their products at a higher cost. In exchange, the merchants would trade up, and increase their status by receiving products from mysterious foreign lands. Depression or Prosperity in Renaissance Italy?

Many historians have debated about whether the European Renaissance created a sense of economic depression or prosperous revival. By examining the progressive movements that occurred within the culinary world, the argument would correspond with a general progressive movement in Tuscany. Within the fifteenth century, Tuscany experienced an economic stability that existed well throughout the sixteenth century. Benedetto Dei, a fifteenth century Florentine poet and historian, hinted at the excitement involving the Tuscan economy at the turn of the fifteenth century. “Florence is more beautiful and five hundred and forty years older then your noble Venice. We spring from triply noble blood. We are one third Roman, one-third Frankish, and one third Fiesolan …. We have round about us thirty thousand estates, owned by noblemen and merchants, citizens and craftsmen, yielding us yearly bread and meat, wine and oil, vegetables and cheese, hay and wood, to the value of nine hundred thousand ducats in cash, as you Venetians, Genoese, Chians, and Rhodians who come to buy them well know enough. We have two trades greater than any four of yours in Venice put together – the trades of wool and silk.”[1]

As mentioned above by Benedetto Dei, the Tuscan land produced an abundance of crops that allowed them to control the trade with the other Italian city-states and even parts of northern Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. Agriculturally, Tuscany experienced a notable transformation in the sixteenth century due to their expansion of crop variations. In particular, commercial crops fueled the rural economy. During the sixteenth century the Tuscan countryside experienced an excess amount of yielded grains. Due to the surplus of grain crops, the farming peasants began to shift their agricultural focus to cultivating grapes, olives and other regional crops. Trade was a major source of economy for the Tuscan nobilities. Not only did the Tuscans dominate the agricultural trade during the Renaissance but also as Dei mentioned, they lead the wool and silk economy in Western Europe. Lucca, Italy was mainly credited to producing the best silk in the world, while the countryside, and their sheep, created one of the highest qualities of wool.[2] Continue the Agricultural innovations.

Section Two (Meat evolved as a status symbol in Tuscany)/Banquets (5 pgs)

In Europe during the sixteenth century, the consumption of meat influenced and communicated a person’s social standing within society. In contrast with the majority of the European population, the Italian’s maintained their nutritional identity with a diet that consisted mainly of grain, vegetables, and fruit. One of the most significant writers of the French Renaissance, Michel de Montaigne, observed in his travel journal that, “this nation is not in the habit of eating much meat.”[3] Montaigne’s observation was an honest description on Italians, particularly Tuscan, food habits. Italians themselves, such as Giacomo Castelvetro, commonly berated the English over their heavy indulgence in meat. Castelvetro wrote in the early seventeenth century (1614), A Brief Account of the Fruit, Herbs, and Vegetables of Italy.[4] Even though...
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