Bread riots were as rare as the prized Semper Augustus tulip
May 31, 2014 9:51 PM   Subscribe

A remarkably prosperous society with an exceptionally large middle class, which took to eating an unprecedented four meals a day! But it's possible to overstate the contrast with elsewhere. Even in the Netherlands there were some people who made do with a lot of bread. At the same time La Varenne in France was laying the foundations of the French cuisine which became so influential, with his recipes translated and used all over Europe.
posted by Segundus at 11:52 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

To think my tedious ascetic Calvinist ancestors came from such a place!



I guess there's a reason they left.
posted by thedaniel at 12:18 AM on June 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

"No breakfast without fresh cherries" seems just a bit unlikely. I'm very skeptical about the overall picture painted; Dutch culture today seems downright hostile to cultivated eating when compared to France or Italy, and it seems unlikely that this attitude developed recently. I guess this is seen through the eyes of visiting Englishmen of the time.
posted by dhoe at 12:34 AM on June 1, 2014

“And the obligations of civicism conditioned the opportunities of prosperity.”

There in a horrible little nut we have the reason why prosperity can be captured by a small fraction of the people. The society I see in the USA has not got any such obligations in it. There are really two societies: one with the power, money and goods, and the rest. The walls between them are getting higher and won't come down until something cataclysmic happens. The cynicism with which I see the one exploit the other is exactly the opposite of civicism.
posted by jet_silver at 5:41 AM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I should probably read this article again after I eat because right now I can't get past melons, gingerbread, crabs, grapes . . . hold up, should I make French Toast with roasted peaches for breakfast?
posted by thivaia at 6:43 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's easy to make concessions to your local working class (though I think even there the author is painting an unbalanced portrait) when the basis of your wealth is mercantile capitalism that features private armies running amok on the other side of the planet. When industrial capitalism came to the Low Countries, it was notoriously awful for the working class.
posted by wobdev at 7:42 AM on June 1, 2014

So yes Early Modern Holland provides food for thought for modern-day American. But only when you take into account the violence of the world economy and the blurred lines between corporations and government.

I do not have the time to devote to this article but I feel like it tells only half the story in overly rosy terms. I will just make a couple of points.

Such equitable provision was the natural outgrowth of the humanism that influenced Dutch life. Historian Simon Schama notes that at “the center of the Dutch world was a burgher, not a bourgeois.” The distinction is subtle but important. “For the burgher was a citizen first and homo oeconomicus second,” Schama continues. “And the obligations of civicism conditioned the opportunities of prosperity.”

The Dutch East India Company (est. 1602) played a big role in this story of abundance. It was the world's first company to issue stocks, it was the predecessor to the modern corporation, it is said. Its royal charter granted it broad powers to act as an extension of the Crown in pursuit of trade: ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies. (Wikipedia)

And while the Dutch enjoyed prosperity based on civic values at home, they did not act on those values abroad. The failed conquest of Formosa, the plantations at the colony at Jakarta, and the activities of privateers in competition with Spanish and British competitors make it clear that what was good for the goose (the Dutch people) was not good for the gander. (Dutch colonies)

Abundance at home always comes at a price.

Control of Baltic Sea shipping lanes allowed the Dutch to dominate the production of wheat and rye in Poland, East Prussia, Swedish Pomerania, and other countries.

I am not sure what the author means by saying the Dutch dominated Baltic grain production. The Dutch dominated the trade at the market at Amsterdam. Grain in Prussia and the Baltic States was produced on large feudal estates, by serfs tied to the land. As the Dutch would show time and time again, they had no qualms about profiting from the fruits of forced labor.

Perhaps it is a something in humanist thought itself that creates these kind of blind spots, or perhaps it is human nature to provide for one's own at the expense of others. Or is human nature a product of humanist thought? I am not a philosopher, I have no answers there.

* Amsterdam was a major hub of world finance, where New World silver exchanged hands (whatever was left after the bulk was dumped in China for tea and luxury goods). Forced native labor extracted that silver from mines.

Silver transport was one of those jobs entrusted to privateers (mercenaries) and charter companies.

* Even though the Dutch West India Company folded to the competition early on, the Dutch East India Company thrived for centuries.

The Dutch ruled Indonesia with such an iron fist that when the Japanese invaded in 1941, the people at first regarded them as liberators.
posted by CtrlAltD at 8:14 AM on June 1, 2014 [12 favorites]

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