Much in the way How Soccer Explains the World discusses societies through, well, soccer, Taras Grescoe's travelogue The Devil's Picnic examines societies by way of food, and more specifically what food it forbids. This is my book of the year, and I have told everyone I know that they have to read it. It combines two great loves of mine: food and travel and adds in witty social commentary to boot.
Each chapter focuses on a forbidden fruit: moonshine in Norway, unpasturized cheese in France, absinthe in Europe, and takes us inside the society in which its made, consumed, and prohibited. From the Spanish-speaking world, he focuses on Coca Mate, a tea made from coca leaves in Peru and Bolovia, coffee, and bull balls in Spain. With the premise that prohibitions say more about a society than what it allows, Grescoe's book is the literary equivalent of the travel channel and food network with some wry humor of the Economist like a cherry on top.