IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN by Stewart Lee Allen


A Sinful History of Forbidden Foods
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A stroll through the history of some food taboos that have caught the author's fancy, loosely organized around the seven deadly sins.

With much enthusiasm and a generous spirit of inclusion, Allen (The Devil’s Cup, 1999) has rooted around in the annals of food lore to turn up an overwhelming number of sketches, historical vignettes, and general information about foods that have been considered “sinful” in some way, by someone, somewhere. Allen's anecdotes run the gamut, from “the politics of the baguette” to an exploration of folks who like to eat clay to the author's personal experience with a bottle of 1898 Absinthe. Ostensibly organized around the seven deadly sins, the numerous two- or three-page vignettes are, in fact, most tenuously linked; even the dishes on the menus that introduce each chapter seem to get swallowed up somewhere in the heaps of facts about more or less obscure comestibles. But the author's got a mercifully light touch, a finely tuned ear for a story, and an enthusiastic pitch, giving a potentially dry discussion the essence of cocktail conversation—frothy, informative, and fast. One can hear partygoers chatting about the culture of dog-eating around the world, or how an ancient Moon Goddess struck down her worshippers for having bad breath. Not everyone can take an anecdote about a White Supremacist and turn it into a whimsical musing on the history of “bean baiting.” In fact, Allen has done some respectable research (documented in a bibliography over 20 pages long). Unfortunately, without an organizing principle that can draw the reader through the pages, Allen's abundance of work and talent seems mostly squandered.

Extremely broad, frustratingly shallow.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-345-44015-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2001