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Meanderer

Food in Literature

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Yesterday, for no particular reason, I began to wonder whether any well-regarded authors with significant bodies of work managed to avoid, entirely, writing about food--its consumption, description, production, acquisition--in their fiction. When I say "writing about," I don't mean a passing reference to food. I mean a passage in a book where the author really focused on the food itself, the location where the food is presented, or the manner in which a character acquired the food.

I looked through some books I had readily at hand and have yet to find any notable author who did not, at some time, write about food in some passage in some book.

A few examples:

Herman Melville--the chowder at the Try Pots Inn in Moby Dick.

Marcel Proust--the abundance of fish and fowl served at St. Loup's hotel during the fair in The Guermantes Way.

John Steinbeck--Ma Joad's attempt to purchase a dollar's worth of food for a family of seven at the overpriced company store in The Grapes of Wrath.

Thomas Hardy--the rum laced furmity at the fair in The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Selma Lagerlof--temporarily calming an angry crowd by providing a feast in The Story of Gosta Berling.

Lev Tolstoy--the lavish feast at provided by the Rostovs in War and Peace.

Gustave Flaubert--the enthusiastic dinnertime discussions by Monsieur Homais about recipes, cooking and preserving in Madame Bovary.

Joseph Conrad--the Italian restaurant in The Secret Agent.

Willa Cather--the feast gone wrong at Acoma in Death Comes for the Archbishop.

V.S. Naipul--the biscuits bought by the drum in A House for Mr. Biswas.

While I could go on to show other examples where food was a subject in other authors' works, can anyone come up with someone who avoided the subject altogether?

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I would have trouble getting through a book that did not talk about food or sex in some form or another ..along with whatever the adventure or story was told...(not in that order but is was alphabetical so that is how it sounded best)

great topic for a thread... I am most happy that authors love to eat ..and romance (again alphabetical not my order of preference)

or I would pretty much be illiterate


why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Isabel Allende in "Aphrodisiac."

Any novel by Laurie Colwin

Oliver Twist: "Please sir, may I have more?" "A Christmas Carol", come to think of it.

Nancy Mitford's books swell with food descriptions.

Mark Twain's "The Appetite Cure."

The Bible

Dave the Cook and I had a week long Daily Gullet piece about food in the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe novels here.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I cannot call to mind any particular passage in anything Faulkner wrote that is about food. Unless, of course, the "my mother is a fish" chapter from As I Lay Dying counts. :smile:


Chris Hennes
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I cannot call to mind any particular passage in anything Faulkner wrote that is about food. Unless, of course, the "my mother is a fish" chapter from As I Lay Dying counts. :smile:

I don't know about that, but in the same book there is the chapter about Cora Tull and the eggs that she manages to gather, despite the depredations of the opossums and snakes, so that she can make cakes for the rich lady in town. She then learns, after the cakes are made, that the rich lady has called off the party and won't buy the cakes.

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Isabel Allende in "Aphrodisiac."

Any novel by Laurie Colwin

Oliver Twist: "Please sir, may I have more?" "A Christmas Carol", come to think of it.

Nancy Mitford's books swell with food descriptions.

Mark Twain's "The Appetite Cure."

The Bible

Dave the Cook and I had a week long Daily Gullet piece about food in the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe novels here.

Dickens wrote about food often, not so often appetizingly. Miss Havisham's wedding cake and Nicholas Nickleby's breakfast with Wackford Squeers at the Saracen's Head are a couple of examples to go with Oliver's pathetic request for more.

As for Twain, I've always enjoyed "Cannibalism in the Cars" although some may call it a stretch to label it food writing.

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While I could go on to show other examples where food was a subject in other authors' works, can anyone come up with someone who avoided the subject altogether?

There are two genres I can guess don't have much to say about food: Science Fiction and Westerns. I'm no expert on Sci-Fi or Oaters, I admit. Maybe because what I've read hasn't had many food descrpitions?


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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While I could go on to show other examples where food was a subject in other authors' works, can anyone come up with someone who avoided the subject altogether?

There are two genres I can guess don't have much to say about food: Science Fiction and Westerns. I'm no expert on Sci-Fi or Oaters, I admit. Maybe because what I've read hasn't had many food descrpitions?

My wife has long maintained that Zane Grey is an excellent writer. Perhaps now is an appropriate time to see if I concur, in the interest of research into the question you raise about westerns. As for science fiction, I'll leave that research to others. I can say that Ray Bradbury's Green Shadows, White Whale, one of his non-science fiction works, contains a great scene involving a wedding cake as well as numerous entertaining situations within a rural Irish pub.

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Marcel Proust--the abundance of fish and fowl served at St. Loup's hotel during  the fair in The Guermantes Way.

And, of course, the oft-mentioned madeleine from Remembrance of Things Past.

There are two genres I can guess don't have much to say about food: Science Fiction and Westerns. I'm no expert on Sci-Fi or Oaters, I admit. Maybe because what I've read hasn't had many food descrpitions?

In the science fiction realm, LeGuin has some food descriptions, if memory serves - I recall lots of detailed descriptions of meals (the ritual more than the food, I suppose) from The Left Hand of Darkness, for instance.

ETA: Actually, now that I think about it a bit more, I think The Left Hand of Darkness was full of food references, particularly during the narrator's journey across the tundra. Constant worry about food, descriptions of the tasteless rations, and so on. I'll have to check tonight when I get home.


"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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From the western genre, there is this from Destry Rides Again, by Max Brand:

Such food and such quantities he never had known. Ham spiced with cloves, fragrant to the core, and corn bread made with eggs, and brittle with shortening, and great glasses of rich milk. This was only the beginning, to be followed by apple pie from which only one section had been removed.

He took one piece and hesitated.

"He'p yo's'ef," said the cook.

He helped himself. Assisted by another glass of milk, he gradually put himself outside that entire pie. He felt guilty, but he also felt happy; and what is more delicious than a guilty joy?

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Synchronicity is a funny thing, people! The Kitchn (Apartment Therapy's foodblog) just did a post on this same question...here's a link.

They mention Jane Eyre (the porridge scene), the fattening up scenes from The Secret Garden, and Little Women, among others.


"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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There are two genres I can guess don't have much to say about food: Science Fiction and Westerns. I'm no expert on Sci-Fi or Oaters, I admit. Maybe because what I've read hasn't had many food descrpitions?

Anne McCaffrey writes about food and drink almost obsessively in her work.

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There are two genres I can guess don't have much to say about food: Science Fiction and Westerns. I'm no expert on Sci-Fi or Oaters, I admit. Maybe because what I've read hasn't had many food descrpitions?

I'd imagine that the reason writers do not escape discussion of food, is that if one has 'realism' as a goal or benchmark- as literature has for a good portion of its existence- then food is necessarily a large part of that reality. I do wonder whether the discussion of food has waxed and waned along with focus on eating. Similarly I wonder if you see cultural differences in literature that mimic the emphasis on eating or forms of eating.

Science fiction, traditionally as 'genre fiction', is possessed by an idea (or so critics argue) which may explain the lack of culinary references to the extent that food does make up part of the idea which drives the narrative.

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There are two genres I can guess don't have much to say about food: Science Fiction and Westerns. I'm no expert on Sci-Fi or Oaters, I admit. Maybe because what I've read hasn't had many food descrpitions?

I'd imagine that the reason writers do not escape discussion of food, is that if one has 'realism' as a goal or benchmark- as literature has for a good portion of its existence- then food is necessarily a large part of that reality. I do wonder whether the discussion of food has waxed and waned along with focus on eating. Similarly I wonder if you see cultural differences in literature that mimic the emphasis on eating or forms of eating.

Science fiction, traditionally as 'genre fiction', is possessed by an idea (or so critics argue) which may explain the lack of culinary references to the extent that food does make up part of the idea which drives the narrative.

A striving for realism may be a part of the reason food passages often appear in literature but I think there are many other reasons as well. Every character in a novel must eat, yet it is the rare book that realistically describes the daily eating habits of its characters. Instead, it seems many authors go out of their way to create food scenes or to enlarge upon them, perhaps because describing food or the act of eating can be colorful, sensual, silly, evocative, or, perhaps, simply because doing so can be an enjoyable exercise even if it does not tend to develop a theme, advance a plot, or develop a character.

Speaking of silly, I just read the pages from Smollett's "The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle" in which he describes an absurd feast supervised by one of the characters which featured, among other things, a soup made from parsley, pennyroyal, cheese, pinetops, honey, vinegar, brine, eggs, cucumbers, onions and hen livers. Another character tastes a different soup from the same feast and "his throat swelled as if an egg had stuck in his gullet, his eyes rolled, and his mouth underwent a series of involuntary contractions and dilations." After "this precious composition diffused itself upon" the palate of another diner, "he semed to be deprived of all sense and motion, and sat like the leaden statue of some river god, with the liquor flowing out at both sides of his mouth."

Smollett certainly wasn't aiming for realism here. He was just having good fun.

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Wow! I actually came here (I'm brand new) to ask this exact question! I just started a blog devoted to this very thing (daily descriptions of food or 'food scenes' from novels, etc) and was wondering if anyone had any good examples... this post is wonderful.

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Welcome, gingerbeer.

Then there are the Patricia Cornwell novels, where Kaye Scarpetta cooks up a storm. In fact, I think Cornwell or her publishers published a Kaye Scarpetta Cookook for the faithful.

Not fond of Cornwell's political or religious views, but she presents a strong woman who can really cook.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Then there are the Patricia Cornwell novels, where Kaye Scarpetta cooks up a storm. In fact, I think Cornwell or her publishers published a Kaye Scarpetta Cookook for the faithful.

Not fond of Cornwell's political or religious views, but she presents a strong woman who can really cook.

Actually, there are two: Food To Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen, and Scarpetta's Winter Table. I've made some of the recipes from the library's copies and found them very good.

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Recently I've read several books by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author, and the translations have been driving me mad. Every time the protagonist sets out to cook something (which is often), the translations are so spare and awkward, it makes me study Japanese harder so I can read them in the original. The descriptions come out as , "I made spaghetti for lunch." And I'm thinking - well - what kind of spaghetti? Mentaiko? Ketchup? Can the character make bolognese? What are we talking, here?" I want to know if it's a flaw in the original writing or just indifferent translations.

As for Sci-Fi or fantasy novels - I've been trapped in a lot of hostels, and I can tell you from reading the average fantasy novel that there is a very high consumption rate of mead, bread and cheese.

In other genres - romance novels do a decent job of talking about food, I think. I recall Jude Deveraux being pretty obsessed with food descriptions, as is Jennifer Crusie.

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maggiethecat said--

Then there are the Patricia Cornwell novels, where Kaye Scarpetta cooks up a storm. In fact, I think Cornwell or her publishers published a Kaye Scarpetta Cookook for the faithful.

Not fond of Cornwell's political or religious views, but she presents a strong woman who can really cook.

I so agree--don't like her books at all--BUT the cookbooks are very desirable--I sold one for a pretty penny--so watch out for them....

Zoe

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