“In the same way as a craving for dainties is a token of extravagant living, avoidance of familiar and inexpensive dishes betokens insanity.” ~ Seneca Epistula V ad Lucilium
We’ve seen how a Modern Stoic may live, but of what should the diet of a Modern Stoic consist? If we look at what the ancient Stoics wrote about food we may be able to adapt our diet to more closely match the precepts they taught to their students.
Zeno of Citium
Best to avoid gourmet food (according to Musonius Rufus).
Once a person tasted gourmet food, they would crave it all the time (according to Musonius Rufus).
Musonius Rufus (Lectures as recorded by Stobaeus)
Inexpensive food over Expensive food. Ch. 17 – On Self-Mastery
- Easy-to-obtain over Hard-to-obtain. Ch. 17 – On Self-Mastery
- Most suitable foods do not require cooking (fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese, honeycomb). Ch. 17 – On Self-Mastery
- Meat too crude for humans. Ch.17 – On Self-Mastery
- Gluttony is a lack of self-control. Ch. 18 – On Lack of Self-Control
“Apply the things which relate to the body as far as the bare use, as food, drink, clothing, house and slaves: but exclude everything which is for show or luxury.” Enchiridion XXXIII
- Be frugal and eat simply, but do not boast about it. Enchiridion XLVII
- “Make your manner of eating neither luxurious nor gloomy, but lively and frugal, [...].” Fragment XXIX
- Food should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, [...]. Ep. VIII
- Practise eating plain food occasionally to strengthen ourselves against future hardships. Ep. XVIII
- “Barley porridge, or a crust of barley bread, and water do not make a very cheerful diet, but nothing gives one keener pleasure than the ability to derive pleasure even from that [...].” Ep. XVIII
- “Hunger will make you find even that (bad barely) bread soft and wheaty.” Ep. CXXIII
The advice of the Stoics above varies, but there are three themes that seem to be present in each of their works.
Why? Humans by nature are adapted to eat enough food to live and thrive, but if we begin to over-indulge and rely on luxurious treats our bodies will become soft and weak while our souls lose self-control, which would cause us much un-needed misfortune.
Out of the numerous diets we have to chose, I suggest that the simplest (and closest) to the diet the Stoics suggest would be one that consisted of Organic / Locally Sourced foods.
Organic / Locally Sourced
All of the foods the ancient Romans ate would be considered organic to us. Until recently, pesticides were not readily available or known so could not be spread on their produce. Taking this a little further, I would suggest excluding all processed foods due to their modern additives. Finally, most foods, except exotic goods only the wealthy could afford, would have been grown from nearby locations.
This diet consists of:
- Meat / Fish
- Fruits and Nuts
- Dairy (cheese, milk*, yogurt)
- Wine (in moderation)
*There’s some suggestions that Romans considered milk to be an uncivilized drink (as well as beer), which could be due to the fact that the barbarian Germanic tribes drank it.
Where to buy?
There are many good sources to buy your groceries.
- Grocery Store
Almost every store has an organic section. If you’re unable to purchase everything from the organic section, do not worry. Eating whole, natural foods is far healthier than eating processed junk.
- Farmers markets.
These are growing in popularity around the country. It’s a great place to obtain the freshest produce and meet the people who grow your food. Another benefit is that it helps the local economy because your money is going straight to your neighbors.
- Grow your own.
This is by far the most time consuming and hard, but after your harvest your first crop you will really appreciate how much work you put into the meal.