Food in Literature
Foods that start with the letter ‘U’ seem to be un-something – unleavened, unpasteurized, unsalted, unsweetened – or foreign, and something I’ve never before heard of, like Umeboshi, the name given to pickled Umi, a Japanese fruit that looks a bit like an apricot.
Then there’s upside down cake, which I have some recollection of eating as a child, and quite possibly also as an adult, yet I can’t remember ever making an upside down cake. Though there is a not-yet formed memory of upside down cake tickling my brain.
Food Provokes Memories
Writing these A-Z Food Posts has been wonderfully provocative. And when I use that word provocative, I don’t mean in a hostile or sexual way, rather I mean in a way that triggers parts of my brain that have been inactive for a while.
That’s one of the reasons I chose to write A-Z Food. From the first food posts I wrote on this blog – Baking Bread and Spinach Lasagna – I noticed food produced a different kind of writing. It stimulated memories, wonderful memories from my childhood, which resulted in enriched imagery.
I’m also reminded of poet Clare Best, who I shared billing with at e.g.Poetry ‘Where are the Men?‘. She read from Treasure Ground, a collection of poetry written during a two year residency at Woodlands Organic Farm – poems about cabbages and cauliflower. I was awestruck by her ability to draw sensuality from something so mundane!
It got me thinking about how evocative food can be in literature, film and art.
Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring has incredible descriptive passages about food. Throughout the book, food – its procurement, preparation and consumption – provides not only sensuous imagery, but also insight into the economic and social status of characters. Indeed, some of the first powerful images of food are delivered in its opening paragraphs:
“I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen when I heard voices outside our front door — a woman’s, bright as polished brass, and a man’s, low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.
I was glad that earlier I had scrubbed the front step so hard.
My mother’s voice — a cooking pot, a flagon — approached from the front room. They were coming to the kitchen. I pushed the leeks I had been chopping into place, then set the knife on the table, wiped my hands on my apron, and pressed my lips together to smooth them.”
Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, perhaps better known as a film than a literary novel, uses chocolate as a metaphor to explore the conflict between indulgence and guilt. Watch this trailer to get a taste of the sumptuous decadence the writer creates:
Food doesn’t have to be the central theme of a film to make food scenes memorable.
In this scene from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘ food serves to group and categorize people, and embellish characters.
This dinner scene from Notting Hill plays with the decadence of a brownie, and who around the table most needs the extra bit sweetness it delivers, not only to their belly, but also to their soul.
Food in Fine Art
In fine art, paintings of the Last Supper, serve to show both the communal sharing of food, and the impending betrayal of Christ, while the still life paintings of the Dutch masters bring us images of life rendered still for ever, yet living on through the experience of every viewer.
Food is Powerfully Provocative
A writer could mine their entire life and write book loads of words simply by drawing upon food memories. Say, for example, rather than doing A-Z food you make a list of all your favorite foods then write a series of blog posts, or poems, or short stories – or whatever it is you write – drawing upon your memories of the first time you ate each of those foods, as I did in ‘locavores’. That first mango memory is delicious in more ways than one!
My friend Lou, who is a poet and published novelist, left a comment on my Beans and Grains post saying:
Why don’t you do one food post a week and one more arty/philosophical post a week …?
I replied: Food is art, vegetarianism is philosophy.
How about a collection of poetry based on your favorite foods Lou?
I was also recently chatting with a new acquaintance from the Geek World, and he mentioned that he had once tried to do A-Z sketches and had done three or four, then quit. I wonder if he would be more inspired sketching from a list of favorite foods?
Gosh, food stimulates such wonderful memories, and writing about food in relation to each letter of the alphabet produces such unexpected results. Try it. Challenge yourself to A-Z Food, and if not A-Z, try the favorite foods list idea.
Jennifer Ward Pelar, who runs three blogs and regularly comments here, suggested A-Z Flash Fiction. But what about A-Z Food Flash Fiction, Jen? Anyone? Let me know if you try it. Just leave a comment here, or send me a trackback. I’ll pop round for a visit.
a collection is a bit ambitious 🙂 but I might take on the challenge and write a poem about food …
Come on Louise, you’re no slacker! One is good beginning – and you’ll only get the results from concentrated focus! it will do you lots of good to do an a-z fiction/poetry food 🙂