The Gourmand

by Mark Gimein

Images by Charlotta Westergren.

Charlotta Westergren, Victory, 2010, oil on linen, 58 in. x 58 in.

The story repeated most often in the gastronomical canon is Plutarch’s anecdote about the Roman patrician Lucullus. Asked if he might want a simple dinner on a night with no guests, the great gastronome orders up a feast, telling his steward that he is entertaining the most important guest of all: “Tonight Lucullus dines with Lucullus.”

What always gets left out in the retelling is that Plutarch’s compliment to Lucullus’s table is a backhanded one. “The daily repasts of Lucullus,” writes Plutarch, “were such as the newly rich affect … With his arrays of all sorts of meats and daintily prepared dishes, he made himself the envy of the vulgar.” The misgivings about the gourmet are as old as Roman times: what if the endless expenditure on luxury signals not sophistication, but just plain gluttony?

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