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The Devil's Picnic: Around the World in…

The Devil's Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit

by Taras Grescoe

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231977,593 (3.87)16
"In The Devil's Picnic, Taras Grescoe delivers a social history of prohibition as a nine-course meal. Beginning with appetizers and aperitifs and closing with dessert and digestifs, Grescoe delights in challenging the safety-conscious, the temperate ... and the authorities. He takes readers on a provocative tour through the forbidden fruits of Europe, Asia, and the Americas, exploring the mystique and aura that surround some of the world's most highly sought after - and often illegal - delicacies.""Unlike most armchair travel, riding shotgun with Grescoe isn't always comfortable. As he pursues his quarry, he looks at regional culture and repressive legislation - from the clandestine absinthe distillation in an obscure Swiss valley to the banning of poppy seed biscuits in Singapore - and throughout the meal, he calls into question the wisdom of interdiction and the motivation behind it. An investigation into the demonized and the vilified, The Devil's Picnic is a delicious journey into the heart of vice and desire."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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In Grescoe's travel books he seeks out a specific theme for his travels. In The End of Elsewhere he deliberately sought ought the most touristed spots across the Eurasian landmass and in Straphanger he rode the world's best metro systems seeking solutions for cities. In The Devil's Picnic, the theme is prohibition and Grescoe travels the world to make a meal of food, drink and other consumables that have been banned or severely restricted in different parts of the world. The menu includes moonshine in Norway, poppy seed crackers and chewing gum in Singapore, bull's testicles in Spain, smoking in San Francisco, absinthe in Switzerland, mate de coca in Bolivia, and assisted suicide in Switzerland (the one thing the author does not sample). Many of these items are banned out of concerns of morality and health, but Grescoe notes the arbitrary nature of prohibition and the damages on society and individuals that arise when resources are dedicated to legal enforcement rather than treatment, and forbidden fruits are only available through criminal organizations. Similarily, there's the hypocrisy of some substances such as caffeine being considered "harmless" and commonplace, something Grescoe attributes to it being a productivity drug that benefits a capitalist system. At times Grescoe comes off as a jerk, like when he deliberately chews gum in Singapore trying to provoke a reaction, knowing that a white Westerner will not be punished like a local. But largely this is a thoughtful book on where the lines should be drawn between self-determination and societal protection. ( )
  Othemts | Feb 22, 2017 |
Traveling across the globe in search of a stew of bull's testicles in Spain, hjemmebrent, a form of moonshine in Norway, Epoisse's raw milk cheese in France, absinthe in France and Switzerland, and coca leaves in Bolivia, the author delves into historical consumption of food and drink and the political prohibition behind them. The indepth research and interviews with locals in addition to journalistic writing makes this really interesting reading.
The only odd notes were the author's segment on prohibited poppy seeds and chewing gum in Singapore, the ban on indoor smoking in the US and the policies on euthanasia in various countries. There didn't seem to be anything food or drink related in these chapters, so this appears to be more focused on what the author deemed as control against individual freedom by governments. Despite these chapters, the author does raise some interesting questions around why the products are prohibited and what legalizing them would mean for the local communities.

In the process of conducting research for the book, the author conducts personal experiments, sometimes to his own detriment, and accumulates enough fascinating stories that is bound to ensure his calendar is filled with dinner party invitations. ( )
1 vote cameling | Mar 3, 2013 |
Good reading but not great. Some funny moments, but also lots of lecturing and pedantry about nanny-states. It got old by the end. Chapter on Epoisses was the best. ( )
  VenusofUrbino | May 4, 2009 |
Mostly finished with this. I enjoyed it, although the author did some *strange* things. I didn't know too much about the history of prohibition, but was intrigued with his comparison to the war on drugs. We haven't learned much, have we? ( )
  skinglist | Jan 9, 2009 |
I completely want to do this. All of this. What a lucky jerk. Jealousy rears its ugly head.

I'd give this book five stars if Bourdain had written it. Of course, then the writing would deserve it, but I digress... ( )
1 vote jonesjohnson | Apr 30, 2008 |
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