Using food in our stories and poems adds a special zest to their enjoyment.
| There is no love sincerer than the love of food. |
George Bernard Shaw
Deserts, appetizers, entrées, pizza and beer, hamburgers and fries, holiday cookies, barbecued anything, outdoor cooking, take out food, home-cooked food, gourmet food, weird food, fresh food, dried food, foods in pill form, soul food, Cajun food, French cooking, Italian Cuisine, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, Oriental cooking…Do you feel your mouth watering?
Food and idea of cooking can capture the imagination to lend itself to some original, dramatic writing. I love food, and I love stories that mention food or build themselves around cooking.
Food is a very important part of our lives. Not that you should be writing dull passages, but put food in the middle of a dull passage, and it will reawaken the reader’s attention right away. Lucky for me, there is an abundance of books in different genres involving food in the market today.
Food can be a metaphor for love, lust, and relationships as in Like Water for Chocolate. Food can be the uniting factor of characters no matter how far apart they are, as in Harry Potter books when students and teachers sit together at a school banquet, eating made-up fantasy food. Food can be used as a shaker upper of emotions like disgust as in James Joyce’s Ulysses where Leopold Bloom “liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” Food can make a foreign or international story feel closer to the reader by easing intercultural barriers and introducing ethnic food and cooking and the behavior of multicultural characters around food, as in Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, and Passover by David Mamet.
Here are a few suggestions for employing food or cooking in your stories:
1. Use it as the subplot. While your story may seemingly center the action around food and cooking, you can raise the characters and their quests to become the central conflict, thus making the food and cooking a subplot.
In The Whole World Over, Julia Glass centers her story around a pastry chef and different tastes and settings that influence the personalities and lifestyles of all the characters in the novel, while in reality, she explores personal commitments, love, betrayal, forgiveness, and understanding Then, In Cooking for Harry Kay-Marie James cooks a good argument for the battle of the sexes and romance.
2. Make food important to the story even if its main character or important characters do not cook or have nothing to do with food. You might design food as a reward or a punishment; you might also gather characters around the table to eat, as they exchange insults, ideas, or flatteries. The possibilities are endless.
In Playing for Pizza. John Grisham puts a disgraced quarterback in another culture to play for the honor of the game and the reward of Pizza, while he employs the theme of maturation and redemption of self.
3. Make food magical or seem magical. You might invent your very own magic food and recipes or you might use regular food items and dishes and the manner they are prepared to perform magic on the people eating it. A good example to this can be the movie, Babette’s Feast.
Shitra Banerjee Divakaruni, also, made spices create their magic on people in the Mistress of Spices, using her main character Tilo who ran a spice shop in Oakland, California.
4. Use the senses. Even if you are not making food central to your story, you might mention dishes or recipes for reminiscing family members, backgrounds, and earlier memories. In this way, using the senses of smell, sound, vision, taste and touch will add depth to your writing and to your characters.
5. Use recipes. An entire recipe can end up as a winner or a disaster in a story, adding dramatic and comedic elements to your writing. You might take a simple recipe and enhance its each step with emotion. For example, if the recipe says ‘add butter’, your character may use an internal dialogue like this: “Add butter, the recipe says. He knew how to butter me up. Actually he butters up anybody, so…I think I’ll add Canola oil instead.”
On balance, remember that using food is only a strategy in writing, but if it is mixed with other strategies, perspective, literary imagination, and narrative techniques, it will add an alluring element to your work, just as Laura Esquivel did in Like Water for Chocolate:
“That look! She had been walking to the table carrying a tray of egg-yolk candies when she first felt his hot gaze burning her skin. She turned her head, and her eyes met Pedro's. It was then she understood how dough feels when it is plunged into boiling oil.”