Alimentary taboos Dictionary by Richard Deutsch

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Richard Deutsch is a teacher at Lyon II University. His field is the cuisine of Great Britain and in this book, of approximately 150 pages, he introduces us to many culinary taboos.

The author strongly reminds us of Michel Gervais’s definition of « forbidden foods » p81: they are a « collective manifestation to which people adhere to show that they belong to a group », since, « there are no forbidden foods in a biological sense, because humans are omnivores« . The different ways of eating: Carbophobia p41: without any starches, Macrobiotic p91, Slimming diets p117, Vegetalian eating p142, Vegetarian eating p143 are the Ideal eating p120, only for their adepts.

Religions are purveyors of many of alimentary taboos. R. Deutsch writes about the 7th Day Adventist Church, often vegetarians who avoid pork, some crustaceans, alcohol, hot spices, moldy cheese or very fermented and strong drink; Japanese Buddhism p36 rejects organ meats, rabbit, dove, snail, mutton and strong cheese, while Chinese Buddhism accepts almost only soya and wheat gluten. For this author, it seems that the Christian religion is « the least constrained of the three monotheist religions » because it only proposes « strong suggestions » and temporary interdictions, such as Lent and eating fish (not meat) on Friday.

R. Deutsch thinks that the most religious taboos are only temporary privations. His examples are the « numerous and complex alimentary rules » of Hinduism p78, the « very strict » rules of Islam p81, « with many interpretations » of Judaism p85, the Mormons’ alimentary rules: no hot drink, eating meat with moderation, enough food for one year at home. Then there are the alimentary taboos in sects p126 and fasting p83 to weaken people physically and mentally. Effectively, the faithful will obtain plenty of heavenly p97 and holy p99 food after their deaths.

The disgust we feel when we read a list of different earthly (36) and aquatic (7) food shows clearly that eating and alimentary taboos are first a cultural way of life. What should we think, for example, about the donkey p28, with its tender eyes, the whale p33, protected by an international moratorium, the toad p58, absolutely needed by the witch, the rabbit p87 that no sailor wants to see on his boat, the slug p89, that some people say is very nutritious, the scorpion p126, eaten « fried in China, coated with chocolate, sugar or caramel », the tarantula p133, that Cambodian had to eat because the famine. Concerning beverages, most of the time, taboos exist because the drinks are alcoholic: wormwood p 19 and beer p33, or too stimulating: coffee p37.Sometimes, taboos have political reasons, as for Coca Cola p56, and Wine isn’t accepted by all religions p147.

About the liquids coming from the body, like Blood p 124 and Sperm p130, taboos come from their symbolism and fantasy. It’s the same for Venom p144 but a little bit different for Urine, p137, which has a more positive representation. Salt p127 and Sugar p130 now restrictions for medical reasons. The author writes also about health, see his entries on Breastfeeding p23, Allergies p25 and « Foodrug » (foods used as quasi-medication) p26.

The current evolution of cooking is found in Additives p20, Cloning p 54, Molecular Cuisine p59, Labeling p65 and GMOs p102. R. Deutsch gives only a few examples about dairy foods: one is cheese from Corsica p70, because it smells very bad. Reading about fruits and vegetables (12) leads of course to thinking about the apple, the original « forbidden fruit« , but maybe it was only a translation mistake! Bread p107 and Rice p122 were once not fashionable as they were not to be very slimming.

R. Deutsch shows us throughout his book, that good eating is a pleasure not far from sexual pleasure, as we can see when we read the names of certain Cakes p107, or when he writes about eating the animal’s Penis p109 or Aphrodisiac Foods p31. Whether or not we eat some parts of an animal’s body is also culturally conditioned. What do we think about Brains p42, Heart p57, Stomach p64, Liver p67, Intestine p82, Marrow p94, Eyes p 01, Ear p104, Feet p110, Tail p115 and Sweetbreads p132.

The author reminds us that Cannibalism p29 is « the most important taboo for humans, along with Incest« , but some people did it, in many different places, and still do it….. in Belgium! p40. This book is full of humor and at its end, you can find some recipes, « taboo recipes« , of course!

Published by Favre Publishing House, Lausanne, 2008