by Stewart Lee Allen
Oh, how I love these “history of this or that” books. If there is a book on display at the library, and the cover declares it to be a history of some random object, process, or concept, I will pick it up. I’ve rarely been disappointed.
In The Devil’s Garden covers the history of foods that have been forbidden at one time or another to certain people. Let them eat cake! The author has playfully split the book up into seven parts, for the seven deadly sins, because, after all, if something is forbidden it’s generally because someone has decided it’s bad for you. The distinctions don’t always hold up, because there’s a lot of overlap between the sins. Depending who you are, eating a “Trojan Pig”, a whole roast pig stuffed with other meats and sausages, can be both gluttony and blasphemy. Incidentally, I am adding “successfully constructing a turducken” to my list of things to do before I die.
The book covers everything from the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden (which, by the way, was not likely an apple – the Christians threw an apple into the story to discredit the sacred fruit of the Celts), to the cultural and religious taboos against eating pork, cows, and dogs. Roman feasts, Aztec human sacrifice, and absinthe – the book is a little disjointed because there’s no clear beginning or end, and he jumps from one food to another, sometimes bringing up the same food twice in different places, making it hard to keep track of everything, but it’s definitely entertaining and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a lighter non-fiction book. Splitting it up into sections like he did makes it easy to put down and pick up again later. My only major complaint is the lack of references. There’s a bibliography but no foot- or end-notes, so you can’t easily track down where he got all his information. I’m a stickler for knowing where the facts are coming from.