The Greeks of the Golden Age are only forty-eight generations ago; compared to the time human beings have taken to evolve that is a brief second.
When examining food in past cultures we tend only to look at the food of the elite, for that small minority is the one that has left records. However, we should not forget the millions who slaved and worked the soil for their diet is highly informative too. The majority of peoples in the Ancient World were farmers cultivating land which was bordered by wild forest, mountains and sea and these places teemed with life that could be caught and eaten. By the time of the Golden Age much of the forests of Attica had been cut down for ships and the heavy rains of winter now washed the top soil away. Good pasture for livestock grazing was a problem. The majority of people were poor, eating meat only perhaps twice a year at the major festivals, they depended on foods from the wild to flavour and augment their diet. From the wild they ate seeds, lupins are mentioned, nuts and bulbs, iris rhizomes were a favourite and a host of green leaves and herbs. Wild foods were a larder of myriad flavours and textures. It is these foods with their thousands of trace minerals which enriched the diet and which we lack today.
The olive tree, its fruits and oil, was central to the cuisine and agricultural economy of Greece.We cannot now imagine eating a Greek meal without its presence, it was the same then. The audience for the Attic comedies were certainly not farmers, they were all city people, not just the elite, but the tradesmen and shopkeepers, the craftsmen, potters and armourers. So the frequent food references were appreciated by an audience of all classes. They were as food obsessed as we are now.
They loved fish more than any other food. There was a great range eaten, mentioned in the literature are shellfish, tunny, pike and carp, grey mullet, blue fish, catfish, conger eel, dogfish (types of shark), skate, ray, sturgeon and swordfish. Tunny was the most important economically, its route of annual migration known to fishermen since prehistory. It would have been sliced in steaks, fried on iron skillets in olive oil and while cooking be sprinkled with aromatic herbs and cumin. To be served only with a green salad, according to Archestratus. How very contemporary they sound, and so they should; people do not change overmuch, the human condition remains the same and so do our palates, our sense of flavour and good taste. The Greeks of the Golden Age are only forty-eight generations ago; compared to the time human beings have taken to evolve that is a brief second.
from “Vegetarianism: A History” by Colin Spencer