Schivelbusch begins with an overview of spices, stimulants, and intoxicants. He explains how the modern age dawned with the discovery in Western Europe of Oriental spices. Spices such as nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon were symbols of wealth and power.
Called “the Great Soberer,” coffee became a symbol of the emerging bourgeoisie, who were delighted by its stimulating effects. Conservatives blamed it for the deterioration of society and said it was dangerous.
The relationship between chocolate and Catholicism is examined in spain and elsewhere in Southern Europe. Since chocolate was consumed in liquid form, the Catholic Church felt that it did not break fasts.
After chocolate, the author traces the history of tobacco. The first use of tobacco was smoking. As with coffee and chocolate, elaborate rituals and preparations developed to display the smoker’s status. Snuff was also popular. The author suggests that the loss of the sense of smell from using snuff might have been a boon to the upper classes, since bathing was infrequent.
The history of alcohol is extensively traced. Beer was the earliest form of alcohol consumed, followed by wine. Distilled spirits, with their much higher alcohol content, were introduced during the Industrial Revolution.
The last part of the book covers opium and the substances derived from it. Schivelbusch provides a brief overview of how and why opium was introduced to China and how the Chinese developed their dependency on this substance.
This is a very good introductory look at epicurean delights and how they have affected society. 125 illustrations are included.