|The Lost Art of Eating, still available from The New York Review of Books|
What's dinner like, then? They serve wine that a woolen rag wouldn't deign to lap up (as Juvenal puts it), which, if you're insane enough to drink it, will make you vinegary, watery, corrupted, dropsical, sour; either chilled, or tepid, with a bad color and taste.... And don't think you'll be drinking from vessels of silver or glass; there's the fear of theft with the former, and of breakage with the latter. You'll be drinking from a wooden cup, black, ancient, fetid, with dregs caked on its bottom, which the lords have used as a pissoir. And you won't get your own cup: so whether you want your wine mixed with water or pure, you'll get what everyone else wants, and wherever you bite down some louse-ridden beard or a slobbering lip or rotten teeth have gone just before. Meanwhile the king is receiving toasts in vintage wine so fragrant that it fills the whole palace.... You'll want to drink but you can't until your betters do....
Cheese will come your way only rarely; if it does, it will be full of worms, perforated, squalid, harder than a stone. Fetid butter and rancid lard are your condiments. You'll only get eggs when they already have chicks inside; your bread and apples are rotten or green, and if you didn't eat them they'd go to the pigs.... Lords love to observe the disparity between themselves and their servants.
How could it all end so quickly, in "grazing," crash diets, fast food, and anorexia? Even the TV dinners of the 1950s, eaten on special tin TV trays that clipped into place, had the virtue of collective experience. Now TV trays have gone the way of the dinner table, relics of a more convivial era. It was a matter of high civic import for Henry VIII to dine alone before an immense population of servants and subjects, but for the solitary sink eater, [mygoodness, alarm!!!] in Strong's words, "the very expression 'feasting' no longer seems pertinent."
To luxury and artifice:
In the entree dish stood a donkey of Corinthian bronze, bearing a double pannier which contained white olives on one side, and black on the other...little bridges which had been soldered on spanned the dishes; they contained dormice dipped in honey and sprinkled with poppy-seed. There were also hot sausages lying on a silver grill, and underneath were plums and pomegranate seeds.