In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
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In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  545 ratings  ·  64 reviews

Deliciously organized by the Seven Deadly Sins, here is a scintillating history of forbidden foods through the ages—and how these mouth-watering taboos have defined cultures around the world.

From the lusciously tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden to the divine foie gras, Stewart Lee Allen engagingly illustrates that when a pleasure as primal as eating is criminalized, th

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ebook, 352 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Ballantine Books (first published 2002)
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Kate
I had high hopes for this book, and it didn't really meet many of them. It's more a collection of vignettes and anecdotes, loosely organized according to the Seven Deadly Sins, than an examination of foods that correspond to those sins. There are a few interesting segments, and a couple of recipes I plan to try out, but many of the connections are extremely tenuous, and seem to be simply an excuse for the author to relate some of the exotic journeys he's gone on through the years. It feels very...more
Tracey
I added this book to my Library To Read list based on an NPR piece from January 2004.

Allen uses the seven deadly sins as the structure for a discussion on foods both irresistible and forbidden, beginning with a fanciful menu for each section. Not surprisingly, the Lust chapter discusses aphrodisiacs, but it also includes a compelling case for why the apple was the Forbidden Fruit of the Bible - it boils down to Roman vs Celtic Christianity. The tomato's carnal history vs that of its humble, blan...more
Laurie
Author Allen sets out to give the history of foods as they pertain to the seven deadly sins- lust, gluttony, pride, sloth, greed, blasphemy and anger. It’s an entertaining social history of human eating habits and taboos, but that’s where I’d leave it- entertainment.

With it’s long bibliography, one would think that the book was well researched. But I had the feeling that some things were more myth than fact; when he got to a bit about absinthe, I knew he was flying blind. (He said that absinthe...more
Brooke
This book combines three of my favorite reading topics: history, theology, and food. Totally impressed with Allen's anthropological approach and keen eye to historical detail regarding the dialogue between people and their relationship with food over the ages. Highlights for me include: 1 - Garden of Eden, was it an apple or a tomato? 2 - Pythagoras, the world's first intellectual vegetarian! 3 - How the link between aggression and eating in our brains leads potato chip manufacturers to making e...more
Sarah
3.5 stars. Interesting concept, and the writing style fit nicely with the subject matter. The prose is sensual, almost lurid at times. The red of a sinful tomoato is described as "slut-red;" no one ever just "cuts" with a knife, when they can thrust it into something. I kind of felt like I needed a cigarette after reading a couple of these sections. I'm not sure I loved this way this is arranged according to the seven deadly sins--clever idea, but a little haphazard.
Abhishek Ganguly
When San Jose Mercury News reviewed this one as "Clever ... In the Devil's Garden will amaze your dinner guests", they were clearly judging the book by its cover. If I shared any of the so called 'witty' annecdotes from this book with my dinner guests, I would be assured that they would never return to my table (with a very strong possibility that I would not be invited to theirs either, anytime soon).

There is nothing delightful to mention in 'In The Devil's Garden'. For an ardent fan of Microhi...more
Laura
Had a few interesting stories, but on the whole seemed poorly researched and fact-checked. The author takes a "who knows" attitude to a lot of well-known facts and makes insultingly sweeping generalizations, assumptions, and ethnocentric statements. Also, the editor should be horsewhipped for letting so many misused words slip through.
Mckinley
The Devil's Cup is a fun read. In part because the tale spinning is tightly linked with the author. Sure I read it taking everything with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, in this book, the author veers away from that in the text (although it does surface in the end notes). So he outrageous statements are just that, and even fictitious although presented as highly probable. I also found the writing lacked connectivity. The food items weren't linked in the writing but rather expounded on in a list...more
Kmorgenstern
Quite possibly the most disgusting book I ever read about food. It was difficult to really like this book even though it is not bad. Stewart Lee Allen has a particular style - he mingles facts with rampant imagination, which makes for colourful (in this case often 'dripping') descriptions but it is hard to know which bit actually contains the morsel of truth to his tales, unless one is willing to read the entire bibliography on which he draws to tell the story. I also thought that the structure...more
Lizzy
There's a lot to like about this book; the stories of fascinating, horrifying, and sometimes depraved food traditions keep you turning the page. However they are flung out too quickly and without any strong organization so it can feel like mental whiplash. "HEY LOOK OVER HERE AT THESE CREEPY CANNIBALS! NOW OVER HERE AT THIS PERVERTED ANCIENT ROMAN FOOD ORGY!"

I thought the classifications of the foods into the seven deadly sins was weak at best. Usually the author's back story to get them to fit...more
Caroline
This is a fairly whimsical exploration of food taboos throughout history, organised around the principles of the Seven Deadly Sins - lust being aphrodisiacs, for example, or chocolate, raw meat under Wrath. It ranges from Roman 'vomitoriums' to the modern day banning of pate foie gras, from Jewish and Muslim dietary strictures to cannibalism and the Roman Catholic Mass - and includes a number of relatively exotic recipes, to boot.

It's an entertaining enough read, although I could have done with...more
Pancha
A light, humorous look at some of the foods we've considered sinful. Some of the entries seem to barely fit in the category they are placed in, and some of the entries are barely food. His concept of vegetarians is pretty limited and as the title implies, the book has a very Judeo-Christian-Islamic spin (although other religions do make an appearance). But overall, it was interesting to read.
Tasha
I wanted this to be so much more than it is; I'm very interested in learning about food folkways and taboos. That is, why do we eat certain foods and not others? What events, rumors and ideas form those perceptions?

In the Devil's Garden covers some of those things, but there's a lot of sloppy, imprecise language and conjecture that makes the writing a lot more wishy-washy than it should be. Anecdotes are presented as fact or as representative of a whole culture or time period, rather than clear...more
Lena
This started out so promising. Witty, interesting tidbits of info on the histories of various foods. And then the politics snuck in with the corn. And some of the claims made started to seem like such ridiculous tinfoil-hat nonsense (something about a conspiracy by fast-food makers to make food taste so horrible so that Americans would hurry back to work faster and be more productive??? really???) that I begin to question the veracity of every other supposedly factual tidbit. Maybe I'm just clue...more
Ellen Salomé
Really interesting facts. I just had to look up some stuff and ended up reading the entire book.
Rebecca
There were some interesting facts in here but I felt they were hidden a bit behind the gimmicky, casual tone... I'm not too keen on non-fic books sprinkling words like bitch and brats around instead of woman and children.... I also felt the idea of devising foods up by the 7 deadly sins didn't work that well, sometimes what was being talked about didn't really link in to the chapter and it felt like it had been put there for lack of knowing where else to put it! However, if you over look the ann...more
Amy
So many of the tales were just gruesome, making it not a very pleasant read. (Maybe that's because I'm a vegetarian...) Despite the long bibliography in the back of the book, I'm also not fully convinced the stories are completely accurate, as many others have noted. The chapters may have been organized, in name, according to the seven deadly sins, but I'm not sure that framework was very effective - the content of each chapter was often very indirectly or peripherally related to the sin under d...more
Scottaggart
I give it 3 George Takei "Oh My(s)" and 4 or 5 ick moments. We as a species have been downright psychotic with ourselves and the food we eat or won't eat. The author takes you on a ride down our collective culinary lane and makes you think about what we eat and why. The chapter about crunchy snacks will make you think twice about offering that potato chip to your already aggressive teenager. Bon Appetit!
Suzie
Book linking food and the seven deadly sins. Very interesting. It is obvious if you are well read about any one of the many topics he discusses that not everything is 100% accurate. As an example he talks about Marie Antoinette's famous 'cake' quote as referring to brioche, but as far as anyone can tell, Marie Antoinette never said anything about letting anyone eat either cake or brioche.
Felicia
I really enjoy the topic of food history, and much of this book was fascinating. The problem is that some of it was exaggerated or made up, and there is no way of distinguishing what is factual and what isn't. This made the book pointless to read for me. I wanted to read about things that definitely happened in history, not some things that happened and some that just made a good story.
Kristen
I LOVED this book! The anecdotes about food culture from around the world are fascinating as is the seven deadly sins structure of the book (although blasphemy isn't technically one of the seven deadly sins; it certainly makes more sense than envy, I guess). Excellent read for anyone who is interested in why we eat the way we do or really why we are the way we are.
Lauren
How various foods acquired their reputations, usually having something to do with the cultural power dynamics in play. The apple, for example, got its bad rap not from the bible (which only said Eve ate a fruit) but from propaganda of Southern European Christians, who used grape products in their ceremonies, against Northern European pagans who used apples.
Traci
This is a very interesting read. However, I can't help but think that some of the outlandish stories are inaccurate as the author often references something he read or something someone told him & then makes his own conjectures based on small bits of information. Still, I've learned a lot & some of it is probably true & it is all very entertaining.
Laurel
I learned more things than I can currently remember! I guess it's relatively common knowledge that Eve's fruit may not have been an apple. Perhaps less familiar is the capacity of island nations for food warfare. Loosely divided into sections according to the seven sins, I found this book informative and amusing, but not stand-out brilliant.
Monique
Some interesting tidbits about food customs, likes and dislikes. There is no accounting for taste!
Ashland Mystery Oregon
Dense treatise on forbidden foods organized by an iteration of the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, pride, sloth, greed, blasphemy, and anger. Wide ranging perspectives on contemporary and historical foods. Includes some recipes.

--Ashland Mystery
Jamie Mcmahan
Anyone who is a foodie, like myself, or appreciates weird and strange bits of trivia and history has to read this book. The author's sense of humor is what makes this such an enjoyable read. Not only is it informative, it will make you laugh out loud occasionally as well. I highly recommend it.
Hannah
Jul 03, 2007 Hannah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think about eating, even when they're not hungry
A romp. Sometimes a stretch of a romp (the author takes a bit of liberty with the concept of envy, for example), but a romp nonetheless. If you have exhausted your set of we-were-really-drunk-and-then stories and are looking for more sophisticated cocktail chatter fair, this book is for you.
Caleb Guillotte
As I am a bit in love with food and cooking, this fascinating study of food pruriensce and taboos is just fantastic and informative. Just the explanation of how the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden transformed from an orange to an apple is worth the price of the book.
Leslie
A good book for Foodies (like me); I could see that some readers would be bored or find the anecdotes strange. I liked it, but I was grossed out at times and bothered by some things! I thought it was clever to have a chapter named after each of the seven deadly sins!
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