Literary Food: Fiction and Non-fiction

Literary Food

Once you start looking, you will begin to find food scenes in all kinds of books.

It’s true, just recently I went into a book shop and this was the display – it was full of interesting and colourful books, all about food!!

A great display of food literature
A great display of food literature

Food in books

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 about food, 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!

Waffles for lunch
Waffles for lunch


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.

More waffles for lunch
More waffles for lunch

Next chapters

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.

Deb xx

Food glorious food

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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Debbie - mother of a 40 year old

Everyone has a story to tell! Deb is a young-at-heart & active 60+ blogger/retiree, after being made redundant from her 22-year career managing education programs in a men’s correctional centre (jail). She now spends her time reading, blogging, riding her ebike and travelling. Deb was awarded a Bravery Award from the Queen when she was 17 after a tragic accident – a definite life changing moment! She is married with 3 grown-up daughters & has 4 grandchildren. She never imagined being Granny Debs would bring so much joy to her life! You can read more of Deb’s story here

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61 Replies to “Literary Food: Fiction and Non-fiction”

  1. Definitely food for thought Deb. Sorry, but the first movie/food/scene/dialogue I thought of was “I’ll have what she’s having” (When Harry met Sally). 😏 Not quite what you were expecting I guess.
    A great post. Bon appetite!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Me too, Mariam! “Ill have what she’s having” was my immediate thought to reading this post. Great minds think alike! 🙂
      Another wonderful post, Deb. I’m so glad that your friends gave you this challenge!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Darn those waffles popped up right when I was eating lunch! I definitely feel the need for something sweet now 🙂

        Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM xx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this idea for a book club! Even better would be if everyone took turns making foods that are going to be discussed from the memoirs, novels, children’s books that week. I know – not your thing, Debbie. I read that you don’t enjoy cooking.
    This is a timely post for me. I have guests coming for dinner next week and have decided to make Shrimp Barka from the memoir,The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. It’s a dish that Alexander’s husband invented for his restaurant and apparently people traveled hundreds of miles to eat it and dreamt of it when they couldn’t be there to enjoy. That’s a lot of hype for a food to live up to. We shall see!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Karen, we did talk about doing just that – making foods that fit the theme but it didn’t happen! All the best for your dinner, I hope it all works out well and how timely indeed 🙂 Let me know how it all goes.

      I really appreciate your comments, so thanks or stopping by and joining in.


  3. Being one who doesn’t enjoy cooking either, this post is very interesting as I’ve never thought about food in literature. But now that you bring it up, I can see how it would be a great book club topic. I’m reading East of Eden now, and just last night Samuel’s wife was making pies. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is such an interesting topic and group Debbie, I wish I lived close by! I agree that Dickens was on the children’s side. I’ve not read any of the books you mentioned but have seen some of them in the film. I do love a good cookbook – mainly to look at the beautifully presented food. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoy reading a genre known as Cozy Mysteries and many of them are set around food either the main character/sleuth is a baker or a chef, etc. And the book includes a lot of discussion of food which may or may not be important to the plot of whodunit. In the end, the crime is solved and there is food and finally, recipes are shared. As for Dickens and whether he was on the children’s side. I think he was. His book was a social commentary on the times when there were no child labor laws and there were workhouses for the destitute. And those waffles look wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have never thought of this but it could pose a problem if you’re dieting!! I know I had to cut us off watching the cooking channel because it was too tempting!!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I always seem to find a food connection in the foods I read! Our bookclub will often work off of the food theme that is mentioned in a story. This book all about food looks interesting. Thanks for sharing it. Yum!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Like life, reading about food in books makes sense, since meals are a catalyst for social events. I posed this to one of my classes recently that events built around food can cause issues for those who have weight issues or struggle with food addictions. The last book I remember about food was a description of Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo, HI. I would not have known about the restaurant and used it as a real-life referral! When we got there I LOVED my mac nut pancakes with coconut syrup!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve been noticing the food in books more lately. I’m not sure why. I was wondering if it was a new trend, but it’s probably always been there, and for whatever reason I’m tuned into it now. The picture of that waffle, by the way, is heavenly!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, there does seem to be a new trend with food in writing n a variety of genres. It used to be just recipe books but they’re changing into works of art these days. Thanks Christie, it’s funny how we get into a loop of observing things isn’t it? The waffle was delicious I have to say 🙂


  10. I don’t like to cook, but I do like to read about food. I’ve read some food related cozy mysteries, but the book that really comes to mind with its many descriptions of food is Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. She followed that book with several others that are even more food focused. I am drooling just thinking about all of that Italian food!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I haven’t read a food-based novel in a while. And I truly can’t remember what the recipe was but I do recall the character loving it. I think this club would be really interesting to drop in on.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. What a lovely post. I can’t help but immediately think of Joanne Harris who excels at marrying a love of food in her literature. I’ve read a few of her books, but Chocolate is still my fav x

    Commenting via the link up today

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I can’t think of a movie with a food scene that I remember. I love food though and like to cook especially desserts. I think your book club is a little more interesting than mine I usually only like about every third book that is chosen.

    Liked by 2 people

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