By Andrew Jotischky
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Additional resources for A Hermit's Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages
Everyone knows, or used to know, that John the Baptist lived on locusts and wild honey. Such a diet is not implausible, for both are readily available in the Jordan Valley where he preached. Locusts, along with grasshoppers, crickets, ants and beetles are eaten across the world and relished in many cultures, especially in North America and Asia. 22) permitted the eating of locusts, bald locusts, beetles and grasshoppers. Locusts and various kinds of grasshoppers are found throughout the world. Although they can be pests for agricultural communities, they have also been harvested as food by native Americans, Africans, Indians and Persians.
There are many grasses with leaves that are not only edible but are thought to have nutritional value, and a monk who was prepared to cook grass had an even wider ﬁeld of possibilities. Herbalists have for centuries used couch grass, for example, to Desert fathers, pillar-saints and fasting 39 make a tea recommended for urinary problems. Foxtail grass, which is found at ﬁeld margins in western Asia, has been grown as a food crop in parts of Africa; its grains are best eaten boiled. Wheat and barley grass, before they grow their grains, are recognized as having a similar vitamin and mineral make-up to dark-leaf vegetables, although it is the toasted or powdered grain that is most commonly consumed.
This meant that it was possible to occupy the desert while still living within the range of human habitation, and thus to be visible in a way that Anthony could only be to others who penetrated the inner desert. Historically, Syria also offered a different past from Egypt and Palestine. Perhaps because of its location as a crossroads between the Roman and Persian empires, the persecution of Christians in the late third and early fourth centuries had never reached the heights that it had in Asia Minor or Egypt.