Saturday, August 10, 2013

What Would Seneca Cook?

Alright, people might not like me jumping onto the whole “diet” bandwagon, but the fact is, what we eat and put into our bodies is important. Even the Stoics saw that. After all, philosophies of life deal with every action we take. What's the point of being a Stoic for every other part of our lives if we just dive into unabashed hedonism with our food? Not only that, we set ourselves for potential guilt for our gluttony and we certainly put our bodies in harm's way. So, yeah, our diet is important. Which is odd, because, if you follow the Stoics right here, then our food doesn't become all the important at all.

Now, I'm not going to quote endlessly here, but if you want some idea of what the Stoics thought of food, you can read Musonius Rufus – who went into a lot of details about our food – and there are some letters by Seneca that address this, though the best one is Letter 18.

The Basics
  • Simple. For the Stoics, food didn't need to be lavish, imported from wherever, cooked on a specially made stove, whatever. Simple is the name of the game here. If a peanut butter sandwich can sate your hunger as well as a Maine lobster with x amount of sides, go for the sandwich. Rufus would say the less preparation needed, the better (he'd be a big fan of the raw food diet).
  • Cheap versus expensive. Easy to understand. Why pay more for food if you don't need to? Does the name brand really taste that much better than the store brand? Often it doesn't. And if it does happen that way, you have to ask yourself, does it taste better because it's made better or because you think it's better? So long as it's keeping you alive (and not killing you – see the next point), aim for the cheap.
  • Healthy. Our food shouldn't be our enemy. Sure, frozen dinners are both simple and cheap, but does that made it a good choice? Candy bars, too, are cheap, but that doesn't make them a good meal. Food should sustain us and help us stay alive. (Okay, I fudged this one a bit. While no Stoic back in the day told no one not to eat terribly, they also didn't have processed foods to deal with. But seeing as both Seneca and Rufus advocated vegetarianism, I'm willing to say they'd tell us to avoid the garbage).
  • Moderation. None of this advice is going to do you any good if you insist on stuffing so much into yourself you make yourself sick.

The Advanced
Okay, so this isn't really all that advanced, and is totally optional on your part, but as I stated before, Seneca and Rufus were vegetarians. Rufus thought eating meat was beneath people and only fitting for animals, while Seneca got it from his teacher, Sotion, and thought that by not killing animals, we reduce our own cruelty. Of course, that didn't stop Hitler from being cruel, but then he was also insane, so who knows?

The Last Word
Remember you are human. The Stoics, though they thought we should always be working on improving ourselves, knew people made mistakes. Overate? So long as you keep an eye on it and be mindful, you'll do it less often. Ate a candy bar? So long as you're not eating five or six a day, one isn't going to kill you (though you still should resist the impulse, as it'll make you stronger). Became a vegetarian but your family doesn't respect your wishes? Even Seneca went back to eating meat when he thought Nero was going to kill him over it (long story).

The idea here isn't perfection. It's remembering that our food and diet are a part of us, not an area to dominate our lives. Most of us aren't chefs, yet we made a lot of us spend more time thinking about what we're going to eat. By keeping it simple, you don't have to think about food as entertainment or face potential culinary crisis over what's for dinner. Go the way of Rufus and you won't even have to worry about cooking anymore, either.

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