Forbidden foods: why they taste so delicious
From the apple in the Garden of Eden to sickly sweets, we love stuff we shouldn’t eat
For something so essential to us, many of us humans have a complex and complicated relationship with food. From the fateful bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden to the prohibition of alcohol in the US in the early 1920s, humans, by nature, tend to be drawn to whatever is out of our reach.
Misogynistic undertones aside, the story of Eve and the apple is dripping in guilt and regret – it’s a tale anyone who’s ever broken an unrealistic diet can relate to.
Religions can be fiercely didactic when it comes to their followers’ diets. Buddhism preaches vegetarianism and veganism, and Hindus don’t eat beef. Pork is not deemed to be kosher in Judaism, and it is also haram, or forbidden, for Muslims.
I grew up in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and 1990s, where my parents were teachers for nearly 20 years. We lived on a compound in a very multicultural society, yet certain of the strict Saudi rules were enforced within the walls of the compound. Women couldn’t drive, and bacon, or indeed any pork product, was completely haram.
There were rumours that pork could be found behind the gated walls of the American Embassy but my abiding memory of cooked breakfasts as a child is of beef sausages and beef “bacon”.
When we flew home to Ireland in the summers, we had a stop-over at London Heathrow. We looked forward immensely to the breakfasts on Aer Lingus on the London to Dublin route, as it was often the first time in a year we had eaten a pork sausage.
There’s a particular Christmas spent in Saudi that stands out. It was the year we had ham. Our great family friend, Mary, who was adventurous and fearless, had smuggled this precious piece of meat into the country in her bra to conceal it from the customs officers. The officers would check our suitcases for haram contraband when we landed in the country, but Mary made it in with the ham and Christmas never tasted so good.
People have their own reasons for eating particular foods. I would never force shellfish on anyone, for example. That’s how a lot of food complexes develop. Being force-fed something against your will won’t create positive associations with that particular ingredient.
On the other hand, I wonder about the blanket ban on certain foods. There’s a theory that Irish people went off fish after the Catholic Church forced us to eat it on Friday.
Kids who are forbidden from eating sweets at home often go on a complete sugar bender when out of sight of their parent/sweet warden.
There are valid reasons for banning foods, of course, and sometimes they are forbidden for sound health reasons.
A Guardian article from a few years back distilled a few chemical compounds that are present in modern food that sound scary as hell. But there are other bans in force around the world that feel a little too over-protective, such as the Kinder Egg ban in the US, outlawed because of the potential for children to choke on the little toy found within the hollow chocolate eggs.
There are also times when food producers fight back against government bodies’ attempts to over-regulate. In 2011, the Irish government wanted to ban the sale of raw, unpasteurised drinking milk because of the potentially harmful bacteria that can be found in it. It had been banned in Ireland up until 2006 but that ban was lifted because of a change in EU law, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in particular wanted the ban reinstated.
Proponents of the health benefits of raw milk, including Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, led a strong campaign protesting this through Raw Milk Ireland (rawmilkireland.com). In 2015, it was announced that instead of an all-out ban, the government would work closely with Raw Milk Ireland to regulate the production and sale of raw drinking milk. This was welcomed by those involved in the campaign and those of us who are fans of raw milk.
There is an urban myth about that 1980s staple, red lemonade. I’ve often heard it said that this sticky red mineral is banned in all other European countries and I’ve even passed on that story myself, believing it to be true. The Daily Edge revealed last year that this was in fact a red-tinged rumour – a spokesperson from TK confirmed there wasn’t a grain of truth in it.
Still, I kind of like the idea of red lemonade being a contraband item that only us folks in Ireland have the privilege of consuming. It gives it an edge which, when paired with the sweet taste of nostalgia, makes red lemonade feel like a pretty special mineral and arguably the best accompaniment for a crisp sandwich.