Eat Like a Stoic (Event)

I’m inviting you to “eat like a Stoic” on Sunday 26th May. We want people from all over the world to make “Stoic Soup”, based on the ancient recipe attributed to Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on our relationship with food, from a philosophical perspective. What should we eat? How should we eat? And what does the way we eat say about our character?

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The Stoics were very interested in food. We’re told that the Stoic teacher Musonius Rufus “often talked in a very forceful manner about food, on the grounds that food was not an insignificant topic and that what one eats has significant consequences.” He believed that Stoic students should begin their training in self-control by mastering their appetite for food and drink.

Musonius taught that Stoics should prefer inexpensive foods that are easy to obtain and most nourishing and healthy for a human being to eat. He advises eating plants and grains rather than slaughtered animals. He recommends fruits vegetables, which do not require much cooking, as well as cheese, milk, and honeycombs. “Zeno”, we’re told, “thought it best to avoid gourmet food, and he was adamant about this.” He thought that once we get used to eating fancy meals we spoil our appetites and start to crave things that are expensive or difficult to obtain, losing the ability to properly enjoy simple, natural food and drink.

Musonius also thought we should train ourselves to avoid gluttony:

Since this behavior [gluttony] is very shameful, the opposite behavior—eating in an orderly and moderate way, and thereby demonstrating self-control—would be very good. Doing this, though, is not easy; it demands much care and training.

Stoics should eat slowly and with mindfulness of their own character and actions. They should use reason to judge where the boundary of what’s healthy lies and exercise moderation wisely.

The person who eats more than he should makes a mistake. So does the person who eats in a hurry, the person who is enthralled by gourmet food, the person who favors sweets over nutritious foods, and the person who does not share his food equally with his fellow-diners. […] Since these and other mistakes are connected with food, the person who wishes to be self-controlled must free himself of all of them and be subject to none. One way to become accustomed to this is to practice choosing food not for pleasure but for nourishment, not to please his palate but to strengthen his body.

I think Musonius would approve of the recipe below because it’s very cheap, mainly uses common vegetable ingredients, which are easy to obtain, and it’s also very easy to prepare. You can easily make a large batch and store it in portions to reheat later. It’s unfussy but tasty and nutritious.

Therefore, the goal of our eating should be staying alive rather than having pleasure—at least if we wish to follow the sound advice of Socrates, who said that many men live to eat, but that he ate to live. No right-thinking person will want to follow the masses and live to eat, as they do, in constant pursuit of gastronomic pleasures.

Recipe for Stoic Soup

In Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece, Eugenia Ricotti describes the following recipe called “Zeno’s Lentil Soup”. It’s a modern recipe based upon ancient sources, including remarks attributed to Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy, which are found in the Deipnosophistae (or “Dinner Experts”) of Athenaeus of Naucratis.

1 lb. (450g) lentils
8 cups (2 litres) broth
1 large minced leek
1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, and 1 small onion, all sliced
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
olive oil
12 coriander seeds
salt and pepper to taste

She says to rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with the broth to boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Then skim the top, add the vegetables, and leave to simmer until cooked, which should be about 30 minutes. She says that if it seems too watery either add cornstarch or pass some of the lentils through a sieve. Finally, add vinegar and honey for flavour.

After pouring into serving bowls, add a good amount of olive oil – she suggests about 2 tablespoons per serving. Finish by sprinkling on the coriander seeds and adding more salt and pepper to taste.

I’ve made this recipe quite a few times myself. I use dried green lentils, which I soak overnight and boil for a few minutes. I use red wine vinegar and often add a couple of garlic cloves and perhaps a few bay leaves, possibly also a little paprika. I’d also usually garnish it with a few fresh coriander leaves and serve with bread. This is a photo of my version…

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  1. On Sunday in the spirit of comradery some friends and I made a delicious, wholesome lentil soup and enjoyed eating it while conversing about Stoicism. We talked about a spilled soup episode where Crates tried to teach Zeno shamelessness and the Epicurean / Socratic advice that appetite is the best way to ensure that a meal tastes good. Thank you for the suggestion!

  2. Hiya, Donald.

    I don’t normally leave comments but I happen to be in the business of marketing and wanted to say that I don’t find much merit in these claims against your site. I see some well-written content and a few options; no one dragged me here with a gun to my head or forced me to consider buying anything. There is an interesting free course being offered and a small, discreet link to purchase your book but that’s par for the course in the digital age.

    As for this recipe, you clearly state that you think someone would have approved but you don’t claim to have acquired it from the super secret stoic recipe book or anything. I actually don’t ascribe to be a stoic but I’d like to think that it would be better suited to one’s energy to quietly leave a place that wasn’t serving them rather than leaving the equivalent of a hissy fit on their comments. Those are my general unaffiliated two cents though.

    That being said, I think I’ll stick around and learn a bit today.

    Thanks for bringing all this information into one place for the rest of us.

    jk

  3. Hi Francisco –

    As far as I know, the ancient Stoics did not practice a low carb diet. In fact, they likely did the opposite. As such, we would be creating something artificially “Stoic”. Perhaps the concept of something simple and cheap that anyone in your current society could prepare with an average one hour or two hour wage with readily available ingredients would meet the arbitrary criteria.

    Or, perhaps we could prepare healthy meal for someone else and fast instead.

    At this point, I am just making this up as I go along.

  4. Please unsubscribe me.

    Your unsubscribe option does not work.
    It just brings up the WordPress site.

    This is the third time I have asked.

    I don’t think incompetance is a Stoic trait nor is the amount of self promotion on your site.

    1. This site doesn’t have a native subscribe feature. You’ll need to be more specific about what you’re trying to unsubscribe from. If you’re following the blog via WordPress that’s a feature of your own WordPress.com account that you’ll need to change to stop following the posts. I don’t have any control over it – you’re the only one who can change your own account settings.

      1. Indeed George. Your subscription is up to you. In each email, there is a link to unsubscribe or even modify your subscription. It is totally under your control.

  5. While this is an ancient recipe, I follow a low carb diet which has served my body well. I am wondering if an equivalent in my way of eating would be appropriate? I do try and follow a pretty simple diet of meat and raw vegetables with cheeses to accent. Perhaps I will come up with my own Stoic meal along these lines.

    1. I can relate and would be interested in a low carb recipe, Jim.
      If you would not mind sharing.

    2. I don’t think a low carb diet would be Stoic. Firstly, it’s not good for your health, fiber for example has been shown to be very beneficial to your health, and your brain thrives off glucose as it’s primary fuel source – bro science aside. Secondly, what are you going to eat by limiting one major macro nutrient ? Meat isn’t very Stoic because of it’s health and environmental impacts, not to mention that it’s almost impossible to rule out animal cruelty.

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