24 July 2014

"Dear Food Thoughtz:" Oily Italian Bodies

Dear Food Thoughtz,
I understand that the Romans used to use olive oil in lieu of soap because they had not yet discovered the latter. Thinking of this does not give me a very good feeling. How does it make you feel? Thanks in advance.



Dear Not-Feeling-So-Clean,

Oh boy. I bet you now regret not writing “…because they had not yet discovered the lather” – am I right!?

Anyway, thank you for your interesting albeit somewhat irrelevant query. The Romans did in fact wash themselves with olive oil. At first I thought this was disgusting because I am opposed to any type of edible object coming into contact with any part of the human body that isn’t the mouth. And then I thought that it was ridiculous the Romans were advanced in so many ways (especially in the areas of day beds and gruesome entertainment, and likely a combination of the two) but didn’t have access to soap and instead had to rely on olive oil. And then I wondered why they didn’t have access to soap because they were all over the place, so why didn’t they just pillage it from some Celts (or Babylonians?)? And then I lost all sympathy for the Romans because of course that Empire failed—who could ever afford to bathe exclusively in olive oil? It is so expensive? I can’t imagine being in charge of the Roman budget; it must have been so stressful.

But then I actually bothered myself to find out a) what soap is and b) how the Romans actually washed themselves with olive oil, and now I’m kind of on board with it. First of all, soap is just animal fat mixed with burnt things or something. And secondly, they weren’t just, like, rolling around in a pit of oil and hoping it would clean them. They would lather it on their bodies and then a slave, presumably, would scrape it off of them. Which kind of sounds great—especially the part about the slave. But, right? Don’t you think it would be nice to scrape oil off of your body? Don’t you think that sounds like a great way to clean yourself? So now I’m confused about how I feel about it. I guess I think it’s fine. I’m not sure if I will try it any time soon, but if you were looking for my blessing to pour extra virgin all over yourself and scrape it off, you had it like five years ago. I know you’re somewhere in China right now, but there have been a lot of good olive oil sales here the past few weeks.

But since we’re on the topic of Romans: I have long been fascinated by the concept of lounging on a day bed while someone drapes a clump of grapes into my mouth. Have you ever tried this? It’s not actually very relaxing, it’s certainly not convenient, and frankly, I think it might be a choking hazard. Not recommended.

The Romans also had a reusable communal poo-sponge, so make of that what you will.

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