On right health and good pleasure

Above: Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina prefect of the Vatican Library, fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, c. 1477 (Vatican Museums). That’s Platina kneeling. Click the image for the entire fresco.

The title of today’s post is a play-on-words, a riff on the canonical translation of Bartolomeo Platina’s De honesta voluptate et valetudine, On Right Pleasure and Good Health (as translated, superbly, by Mary Milham in 1998). Italian humanist, gastronome, and literary consultant to some of the most important cultural and political figures of his time, Platina authored a treatise considered by many the earliest printed work on gastronomy. It was overwhelmingly popular in Europe from the time of its initial publication in the late 15th century through the 17th century, by which time it appeared in myriad translations from the Latin. (I know a little about Platina and his book since I translated the 15th-century Italian recipe collection by Maestro Martino from which Platina drew heavily).

In the mind of the Renaissance humanist, good health and right pleasure were inexorably linked. As food historian Ken Albala illustrated so eloquently in his 2002 Eating Right in the Renaissance, inhabitants of 15th-century Italy believed — rightly — that everything you put into your body affected your health, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

Sumus quales edamus: we are what we produce (äfere), we are what we eat (lèdere).

I’m no Renaissance man but I do believe that right pleasure and good health go hand in hand, so to speak.

That’s why I’m thinking today about “right health”: President Obama’s signing of the new health care legislation (however flawed, however riddled by political posturing) marks for me the fulfillment of a dream (both personal and civic). As David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times today, “The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago… Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would ‘mark a new season in America.’ He added, ‘We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.'”

As a long-time self-employed translator, writer, copywriter, and musician/songwriter, health care has always been a primary issue for me. To my mind and in my heart as a member of American society, the inequality of health care in our country has always represented a tragedy in our affluent nation.

So today I ask you to consider a step forward in our country, toward an inalienable right that is guaranteed, however imperfectly, to citizens in most Western countries.

What’s next? Will we outlaw the death penalty? I’d certainly drink to that.

In other news…

Please read BrooklynGuy’s excellent post today, with its oxymoronic title, How to Buy Excellent Cheap Wine.

7 thoughts on “On right health and good pleasure

  1. Great tie in/post! As a physician, I’m becoming more and more convinced that my biggest challenges are the most simple: How do we convince Americans to eat better and how do we get them to get some physical activity in our car society. I can only do so much in a 10-15 min clinic appt- it’s far more important for me to start doing what I can to change the culture. I know personally, I’m finding that when I eat better tasting/fresher/locally grown things, I don’t need to eat as much. I was rewatching Food, Inc the other day and they have a Hispanic family that is eating fast food every day so they can afford the father’s diabetes meds and they ask the question, should they eat better or take the meds. Everytime I see it, I want to drive down to where they are and tell them to buy the good foods and forget the pills for a while

  2. I completely agree with Andy Pasternak on this one, great post and tie in! Two guys at my gym are diabetic, they decided that not only would they follow a good exercise routine, but that they would eat fresh foods and eliminate all fast food. They did a lot of research on dieting because they felt that what the Certified Nutritionist recommended was not effective enough. Evidently she recommended what virtually medical personnel would, the American Diabetes Association guidelines. Well, they stumbled across the Paleo Diet by Dr. Cordain, and gave it a try. Their grocery bill went up, but they were able to drop medication, thus saving a lot of money. Both of them love their new diet and love the fact that they are off diabetes medication. You can also search google and find a few people who have done this. Did I mention they also enjoy wine??

  3. I see you’ve taken a break from mommy blogging and from translating Italian blogging words. And what I read is quintessential Parzen. And it makes me very happy. Not that I think you should stop mommy blogging, or relationship blogging, no don’t do that, amico. But taking time for yourself, that is a good thing. I really dig the academic stuff. And yes, I am glad now that my son will be able to have health insurance. This battle against economic inequality is near and dear to my inner Salvatore Giuliano.

  4. wow, Andy, Gastrovino (love your handle, btw!), and Alfonso: thanks for the thoughtful comments and insights here and for sharing this moment with me. I’ve been so caught up in the blogiliciousness lately and I’ve missed doing these types of posts. Italy was a revelation for me when I first traveled and studied there in 1987. Health care was free (I sprained my ankle playing basketball on the grounds of the university dorm where I lived) and the university cafeteria entirely changed my overall health: my new diet of pasta and rice, with just a little meat and other fats, and a glass of wine for dinner enlightened a new path to health for that bright-eyed 19-year-old kid. Thank you, from the heart, for these thoughtful comments and for sharing this momentous occasion in our nation’s history here… :-)

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