Review: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

You may have noticed that one of the few dietary requirements I don’t pay much attention to on this blog is Kosher law (Halal also misses out, which is somewhat astonishing, given where I live).  Of course, since most of what I post about is vegetarian, it’s pretty much Kosher and Halal by default, at least if one isn’t too strict about such things.  At least, that’s my understanding.  I’m definitely no expert on the subject.

Anyway, it seemed to me that it was time to redress this balance, and where better to start than with the Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals?

I imagine many of you are now counting on your fingers all the very many places that it would have been better to start, and are running out of fingers.  And perhaps you have a point.  But consider for a moment how you would feel if you found yourself stranded (as happens to so many of us), in the Greece of the ancient Olympians, or in the Star Trek Universe, or perhaps in a Catherynne Valente novel?  It’s entirely possible that you would, in time, become a trifle peckish, and such details as the diet of a Pollo Maligno, or how best to cook a Sasquatch could become matters of vital interest.

And of course even if you are not Jewish, it is extremely important to know whether these things are Kosher!  After all, it has been pointed out by many people over the years that the laws of Kashrut tend to correspond rather well to a lot of things we know about food safety, so one could do a lot worse, in an unfamiliar clime, than to use Kosher law as a basis for whether you should eat or greet the local fauna.

This book, then, fills a hitherto neglected niche in studies of Kosher law.  Each page provides a brief description of the animal in question, followed by a Socratic dialogue of sorts between Ann VanderMeer, the Kashrut expert in this volume, and the Evil Monkey, Jeff VanderMeer’s alter ego, an indiscriminate carnivore.  In the final section of the book, chef Duff Goldman discusses appropriate cooking methods and accompaniments for some of the creatures mentioned previously, as well as a few, such as the decidedly non-kosher Tribbles (best deep-fried, which makes them crispy) or Wookies (rather tough; braise them gently for as long as you can), not mentioned elsewhere.  The Cthulu-ink pasta is particularly worthy of note, though it’s probably best to taste it as you are cooking, to ensure that the dish doesn’t become overwhelmed by the walnut-shell taste of Evil.

We are, however, warned away from the Pope Lick Monster (anything that licks the Pope is likely to be treyf), and the Worm Ourobouros (not only is it not Kosher, what it’s eating is not Kosher…).  Indeed, it must be stated that the great majority of beasts mentioned in this book are not Kosher for one reason or another, and the majority of those that are Kosher do not sound very palatable at all, making this book very useful for those concerned about maintaining dietary laws under extreme circumstances, but less helpful for those looking for recipes.

Despite this minor failing, I found the information provided in this volume to be both useful and informative.  As you might expect from a book on Kosher animals, this volume is of limited interest to vegetarians (though the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary may be a creature to look out for, depending on one’s reasons for vegetarianism – it certainly sounds tasty to me).  There’s plenty here for the gluten-free cook to work with, however, and I have to say, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for any further books in this series.

I’d recommend this volume to anyone who is ready to move on from Apicius’s stuffed dormice and baked flamingo to more exotic fare.

Oh, and in case my review doesn’t make this plain, The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals is a very, very clever book, and also one of the funniest I’ve read all year.  The Evil Monkey dialogues are hilarious, and the entire premise is just brilliant beyond belief.  It’s definitely worth a read, whether you like cooking or not.

You can buy The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals at The Book Depository (which appears to be discounting it this week) or from Amazon"", and I really think you should!

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4 comments for “Review: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

  1. Megan
    July 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Vandermeer? Ooo, I need that.

    • July 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Yes, you do!

    • Andrew McLean
      July 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm

      I think that’s what you said when I wrote about it in my journal 🙂

      • Megan
        July 18, 2011 at 11:37 pm

        Really? I then promptly forgot all about it, apparently. But this time, I have already emailed the details to he-who-has-the-credit-card. 🙂

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