Whenever the subject of food threatens to become tedious, I turn to a book of culture where eating is front and center. This weekend I came back to In The Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food by Stewart Lee Allen, a 2002 book that takes the history of food and taboo and organizes it by genre according to the seven deadly sins.
Fittingly, Allen begins with original sin, and covers the debate over what fruit Eve would have been tempted with and how the apple ended up with its scandalous reputation.
Much of the book deals with the entanglements of religion and food. That apple may have received its dubious place in history, for instance, because it was an important part of druid culture. The always fascinating subject of Jewish cooking in Spain during the Inquisition comes up. But wrapped up in this history are also New World foods and their terrifying qualities (the tomato was particularly frightening), sexuality, racism, and of course, absinthe.
In The Devil's Garden is a book that, over the years, I've given to non food-obsessed friends to explain my career choice. It appeals to the academic side of people, but also to readers who enjoy a good scandal — there are plenty of those in here. Re-reading it 10 years after its publication, some of the history presented as fact here seems a little questionable. But for the most part it's a fun, fascinating read that makes food intriguing all over again.
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