While overindulging on roasts and rice, sweet buttery peas and rich chocolaty pudding too frequently might not be a surefire way to maintain a trim (or at least a reasonably healthy) figure, the pleasure I take relishing the bright, colourful, and altogether delightfully enticing descriptions of wafting, delicious scents and sumptuous flavours of food in literature leaves me suffering very little guilt.
Food scenes (along with shopping scenes) are often sections of a book I read again and again. From the magnificent opening and Christmas feasts at Hogwarts and the awe-inspiring spreads on the high-speed train and at the Training Center in the Capitol, to lembas from Lothlorien and mudnuts from the mud farms beneath the city of Aramanth, I love it when authors take time to describe the main character’s dinner. If unnecessarily overdone, while still fun to read this might sometimes take away from the story. However, if used cunningly, a short paragraph here and there devoted to food I think can do a lot to set a scene.
Perhaps Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” is the most recent series I’ve read to make full use of food to enhance a story’s meaning. Collins effectively uses food (among other things) to demonstrate difference in social standing between the the Capital citizens and the people of the twelve districts. We see Katniss hunt for and plan her family’s simple meals for the day, and see her (and all like her’s) plight by her gratitude and almost reverence for Peeta’s gift of bread as she recalls that terrible, hungry day she received it. Then there is an abrupt switch, and in the Capitol’s care she is suddenly inundated by food so plentiful and extravagant it almost makes her sick. One of the most poignant moments I feel is when Katniss tries to figure how she would replicate a wonderful lunch she eats with Cinna if she were back District 12 with such limited access to good ingredients.
I enjoy writing food scenes as much as I like reading them, but I don’t have as many as I’d like in my first story. Much of it, despite being a fantasy, takes place in an everyday setting with people neither rich nor suffering. At one point they dine on curry from a jar, another day they have a stir fry with hokkien noodles from a squishy pack. My personal favourite is when a protagonist (who does not usually cook) whips up a batch of spud-bog (and yes, that is exactly what it sounds like). But all in all, I haven’t gone into much detail. In my more fantastical scenes, however, I did have a little fun with food, attempting to use it not only to denote the differences between the upper class and the outcasts, but also to highlight those between various cultures. I tried to do this not only with the food itself, but also with its presentation, idiosyncratic ways of dining, and frequency of meals.
As much as a good fooding can lend to a story, I think I could be going overboard in my current work. I’m only up to chapter five, and already there’s so much mention of food I can barely keep it straight. The main character’s family does own a general store, and his stepmother is a chocolate maker – I’m sure I’ve mentioned the word “chocolate” as often as some reasonably important characters’s names – so I suppose there’s reason apart from my great liking for food scenes. More likely I made it all so just so I could talk about food more. But it won’t go on much longer. They should enjoy their tasty good fortune while it lasts, as should we all.