Once you start looking, you will begin to find food scenes in all kinds of books.
It’s true, Just yesterday I went into a book shop and this was the display – full of interesting and colourful books about food!!
Have you got a favourite food scene from a book or a movie? Did you realise this was an example of literary food?
Our WEA Discussion Group is up to Chapter 3 of our latest course ‘Eating their words: The Literature of Food’ and this week we discussed Literary Food. As a recap, we covered The Literature of Food in Chapter 1 and Comfort Food in Chapter 2.
Literary Food is defined, by our tutor Jeannette Delamoir, as both food in literary works such as novels, and literary works aboutfood, for instance non-fiction works such as memoirs, biographies and even journalism.
I have a confession to make – instead of reading the notes for Chapter 3 before our lunchtime meeting, I read Chapter 4 Historical Food!! I loved Chapter 4, the readings, the questions – the whole kit and kaboodle! I also discovered that I’ll be away when Chapter 4 is discussed so I’ll miss out on sharing in the joy of the history of food 😦 As we were starting to discuss Chapter 3 I thought something was wrong – none of it made any sense to me and that’s when I realised I’d read the wrong chapter! I fessed up and they all laughed at me 🙂
I then had to play catch up with reading Chapter 3’s notes on the fly – I decided it wasn’t nearly as good as Chapter 4 – in my expert opinion!
To be fair, it was interesting and we had a great discussion, which was no doubt helped by our host Grazyna serving us freshly made Scandinavian Waffles, with cloudberry and lingonberry jam. Yummy, yummy, yummy!
Some of the questions we discussed were:
Why is the food there or what does the food contribute to the story, why do you think the author included it?
What sort of food is being talked about, is there a special event, who is eating? What does the food tell us about the mood and atmosphere, character, place and culture?
Once we have considered these questions, and others, we can start to understand the role and function of the food in that particular piece of writing.
Memoirs are a completely different style of food writing and show the background to working in the food industry. The chef’s personalities come through loud and clear – Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay’s Humble Pie just to name a few.
We discussed many works of fiction where authors often include recipes and stories related to food – Joanna Harris’s Chocolat, The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C Morais , Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran and Like Water for Chocolate by Lara Esquivel were all mentioned in our notes. Have you read any of these? I loved Chocolat both the book and movie. Babette’s Feast was another one that was mentioned.
Apparently another genre in literary food is food-related murder mystery. Anthony Bourdain was mentioned here, but I haven’t read any of his works.
We had a great discussion on children’s books that include food – Famous Five, Where the Wild Things Are, Wombat Stew, Hungry Caterpillar, Possum Magic, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and a raft of fairy stories and nursery rhymes based on food.
One of the readings I really enjoyed was from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens –
“Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn’t been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist….
Please, sir, I want some more.
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.”….
There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.
That boy will be hung said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. I know that boy will be hung”
Among the most discussed questions on this reading were these two:
1.What is the effect of making this scene about food, and not about (say) blankets or shoes?
2. Do you think Dickens is on the side of the children or the adults?
We decided that Dickens was definitely on the side of the children, what do you think?
There are lots of similar stories which include food and once you start looking you’ll find them everywhere!
In this, our latest get-together, we again had a variety of readings provided, notes and discussion activities. One of the members takes notes as we talk and collates these into a report which is emailed to our lecturer. The report is read and commented on (not marked, it’s not an assignment!) and this week we enjoyed hearing the lecturer’s thoughts and responses to our second meeting. She also sent me a lovely email in response to my post.
These posts came about in response to my fellow group members challenging me to write a post about food as:
a) I’m not known as a food blogger and
b) I don’t really enjoy cooking that much
I’ve now been challenged to write a post after each meeting to summarise my thoughts and reflect on the discussion that takes place over an extended lunch with the group of friends. I’m actually enjoying the challenge of writing about these discussions, despite not being a foodie!
In case you’re interested, my first post tells the story of our discussion group through WEA – it’s like a distance education course we undertake with a group of friends while we eat lunch together (quite fitting as this course is all about food). Other topics we’ve done include Scandinavian cultural greats and Women travellers and writing. It’s always interesting to read, discuss and learn from each other in a relaxed environment.
The next chapters of the course include the following topics and I’ll keep you updated on our discussions as much as I can.
Chapter 4: Historical food – I’ll miss this one unfortunately but I still might write about the readings – they were so good!
Chapter 5: Eating – recipes and reviews
Chapter 6: Food in the future
In case you missed earlier chapters here are links to my posts –
Chapter 1: The Literature of food
Chapter 2: Comfort Food
So what have you been reading that has talked about food? In what context is the food discussed? Were you aware of literary food before – I admit to not knowing much about it at all!
All I can say is that it’s amazing how we can all talk for hours on end about food, sharing our thoughts and memories and learning so much in the meantime. Life is good 🙂
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sources: Please note many of the quotes used in my post came from the WEA Discussion Group Programme Eating their words: The Literature of Food, D224 by Dr Jeannette Delamoir.
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