Stop Eating! You’re Making Me Hungry!: Food in Books

“Someday I’m going to make a cake castle, and then I’m going to live in it!” – Kekkaishi

How many times have I sat down with a book, and after several minutes of reading them eat, I too am hungry? And why are they always eating good food? Cake, pie, chocolate eclairs, elegant steak, sizzling bacon, fancy cocktails, popcorn and the like? Kicking back with a glass of wine will unraveling a mystery. Having a great feast in celebration for an anniversary. Weddings, countless weddings (I love romance). Overstuffed tables in the enemy’s fortress. Books where the main characters are good cooks (these are the worst! Everything sounds so good…) I’m almost relieved when a character will comment that the lemonade was sour, or the sandwiches were soggy. Heaven knows I don’t need to be jealous of fictitious food.

Being humans, eating is one of those necessary things we do every day (it’s up there with reading, writing, and sleeping). And since most writers have humans (or human-ish beings) as their main characters, that need to eat is naturally passed down. Some writers really get into describing the food, to the point where it’s almost cruel to the reader. Brian Jacques, author of the excellent Redwall series, is notorious for this. My mother always knew when I was reading his books because I would have to pause and find something to eat every time he started in on describing the food. It could only be bread and cheese and October ale (whatever that tastes like), but the art in which he described it, and the reactions the characters had to eating it, constantly made me hungry. A good writer, yes?

There are those writers who also take relish in the opposite direction: making the food sound terrible. There aren’t many, but they’re out there. J. D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) in her futuristic cop series, set several decades ahead in New York (ah, NY again!) always appears to have fun describing the un-appetizing food of the future. Soy dogs, soy fries, veggie hash. Vending machines that give you the nutritional facts as it spits you choice out, letting the world know you skipped the healthy protein bar in favor of the cupcake. All you can do is be grateful that you have nice, normal food to eat.

And, of course, there are those writers who only talk about food if it has something directly to do with the plot. There are no wrong ways to go about eating in fiction. It’s appearance (or lack thereof) can be a helpful setting tool to attune readers to the vibe of the world. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. My only caution is that you should, at least on occasion, make the remark that food was consumed (or not consumed, as the case may be) so that the readers are assured that you cared enough for your character’s well being that you fed them. I say this from experience. After completing the first draft of Universe of the Soul, I had my mother read it. She came back to me with a lot of praise (well, she is my mother) but remarked “I noticed they never ate.” Ooops.

So, all you novel writers out there: when were your characters’ latest meals?

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rachel Grima
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 22:34:12

    I’m sometimes so focused on developing the plot that I forget to take care of my characters’ basic needs. Poor things!


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