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main index   © Jeff Matthews    entry July 2007        

Everything is related to Naples
Number 121
in this series. Link to all items here.


Roman Fast-Food  or
Possum tubera solani fricta habere?*

I can’t wait to break this news to my friends at the local “slow food” club. Their logo is a snail (really!) and they (my friends, not the snails) pride themselves on waiting for their meals as they lavish insults on barbarous tramontane habits such as “fast food.” After all, they reason, their imperial ancestors dined slowly, sumptuously, in the most leisurely Claudius-peel-me-a-grape fashion imaginable.

Hah! I say Hah! I call their sloth-besotted attention to Dr. Penelope Allison's recent book The Insula of the Menander at Pompeii Volume III: The Finds, a Contextual Study (Oxford University Press, 2007). It contains catalogues, analyses, photographs and drawings of 2,000 archaeological artefacts excavated in Pompeii. The average ancient Roman ate on the run (!) and—(drum-roll)—did not wine and dine in measured decadence the way you see them doing in movies about ancient Rome. As a matter of fact, the ancient Romans never even saw movies about ancient Rome! (Dr. Allison doesn’t say that; I’m just trying to help out.) Allison says, "In many parts of the western world today, a popular belief exists that family members should sit down and dine together and, if they don't, this may represent a breakdown of the family structure, but that idea did not originate in ancient Rome."

Allison found a lack of tableware and formal dining or kitchen areas in the homes in Pompeii. Instead, there were isolated plates here and there, such as in sleeping quarters. She also found mini barbecue-type fire boxes, suggesting "BBQ or fondue-style dining.” "Similar to how children today bring a plate of food to their rooms before watching TV or playing on the computer,” says Allison, “my guess is that Roman youths would tote food to certain areas where they possibly engaged in other activities." Got that, mater? Multi-tasking!

Another authority on ancient Rome, Professor Stephen Dyson of the University of Buffalo says that Allison’s book is “meticulously researched” and adds, "We've also found numerous fast food restaurants in Pompeii and other parts of ancient Rome, " calling these places a cross between "...Burger King and a British pub or a Spanish tapas bar. …Most Romans lived in apartments or rather confined spaces, and there is not much evidence for stoves and other cooking equipment in them," he says, adding that "Italy's vibrant street and bar scenes today, along with the often multipurpose design of homes with bedsteads stacked in a corner, or kitchenettes in surprising places, reflect the wonderful, slightly chaotic, aspects of early Roman life.”

Hear! Hear! or, as we say, audite! audite!

- - - - - - - - - -

*Can I get some fries?

[See related item on the Roman thermopolium.]

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