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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
If it tastes good, it deserves to be forbidden. That's the premise of Stewart Lee Allen's romp through the history of food taboos, and he's got a lot of evidence to prove the point.
Playing their parts in this history are the Catholic Church, which added the apple to the sin roster; the French, who alternately banned, then improved hot chocolate (a dish revered by the Aztecs, Olmecs, and Mayans); English Protestants, who thought the potato induced sloth; and the cautious Christians who snubbed the tomato for 150 years.
Drawing on anthropology, sociology, history, and his own extensive travels, Allen turns the spotlight on innumerable food taboos and their origins, with chapters organized around the seven deadly sins. Each chapter begins with an imaginative menu specific to the sin, like the Lust Menu featuring Salade de Jardin (late-harvest Eden apples tossed with fig leaves and served with a Paradise vinaigrette), and the Sloth menu with its headliner, Mashed "Couch" Potatoes in the style of Joël Robuchon. Recipes are often included. Within each chapter is a potpourri of forbidden food stories.
Along the way, we learn enough tidbits to get through a year of cocktail parties. For example:
- It's no wonder that devout Hindus will not eat cow -- each Indian cow is said to house 330 million deities.
- Hitler was such a devout vegetarian that he could not bear to see animals harmed, even in the movies.
- Buddhist monks are forbidden from eating garlic, onions, and chives, lest they stir up anger and aggression.
- Given a choice between light and dark bread, history seems to vote for light every time. Caesar punished inappropriate servings of dark bread with prison time, while French citizens in the 1700s lobbied for aristocratic white bread, instead of their daily rye -- and you know what that led to.
Writes Allen, "What struck me while writing this book was the surprising extent to which people have judged, fought, and slaughtered others because of what they had for dinner. These laws about forbidden food give more than a unique and sometimes humorous perspective on history; they tell us an awful lot about how we view the pleasures that make life bearable and turn even the humblest meal into a meditation on humanity's relationship to the delicious and the revolting, the sacred and the profane." (Ginger Curwen)