Friday, November 19, 2010


Dapes Inemptae

Aristophanes, Acharnians 28-36 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I am always the very first to come to Assembly and take my seat. Then, in my solitude, I sigh, I yawn, I stretch myself, I fart, I fiddle, scribble, pluck my beard, do sums, while I gaze off to the countryside and pine for peace, loathing the city and yearning for my own deme, that never cried "buy coal," "buy vinegar," "buy oil"; it didn't know the word "buy"; no, it produced everything itself, and the Buy Man was out of sight.
These words spoken by the farmer Dicaeopolis, forced off his farm and into the city by war, came to mind when I read Michael Pollan's account of supper at Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, in The Omnivore's Dilemma (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), p. 203:
Everything we ate had been grown on the farm, with the exception of the cream of mushroom soup that tied together Teresa's tasty casserole of Polyface chicken and broccoli from the garden. Rachel passed a big platter of delicious deviled eggs, eggs that in this form or some other would appear at every meal that week. Though it wasn't even the end of June, we tasted the first sweet corn of the season, which had been grown in the hoop house where the laying hens spend the winter....At dinner I mentioned that this was probably the all-time most local meal I'd ever eaten. Teresa joked that if Joel and Daniel could just figure out how to mill paper towels and toilet paper from the trees on the farm, she'd never have to go to the supermarket. It was true: We were eating almost completely off the grid. I realized that the sort of agriculture practiced at Polyface was very much of a piece with the sort of life the Salatins led. They had largely detached their household from industrial civilization, and not just by eating from land that had virtually no economic or ecological ties to what Joel variously called "the empire," "the establishment," and "Wall Street."
Of course even corn cobs will do in a pinch if toilet paper is absent. The phrase dapes inemptae (unbought meals) occurs in Vergil (Georgics 4.133) and Horace (Epodes 2.48).

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