Saturday, September 22, 2012
In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
I really wanted to enjoy In the Devil's Garden, but after a promising start, it disappointed me. It has an intriguing premise - the examination of the seven deadly sins as they relate to food preferences and taboos. Lust was interesting, with an aside into why apples eventually became identified with the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (a combination of the suggestive image of the seed sac and political battles between two branches of primitive Christianity). I also enjoyed gluttony, which was probably an easy chapter for Stewart Lee Allen to write. Pride had some good points, such as how dinner invitations set and keep the social order, but Allen's less than compelling writing style began to wear on me. Sloth and (surprisingly) greed seemed to be catch-all chapters, where Allen threw in bits of information he'd uncovered but didn't know how to present. I expected more from blasphemy, but Allen explored cannibalism rather than religious taboos and seemed to be stretching to fit his examples into his thesis. Finally, I just didn't buy his arguments on anger. Among other things, he claimed that sports fans eat crunchy snacks because those snacks are violent. As a sports fan who is not exactly adverse to said snacks, I have to say that sometimes a chip is just a chip. Or a way to get the dip into your mouth without using utensils.