Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Food, Glorious Food!


I've been thinking a lot about food, mainly because I haven't been able to eat much of it thanks to an emergency dental issue. All my favorite go-to writing snacks, e.g. carrot sticks, wasabi crackers, tortilla chips, cheese, etc. have been put on hold in favor of soup and endless glasses of water-and-lemon. And if you think writing and liquids make a good combo, let me tell you, they do not.

I don't know why I get so hungry when I write, and it's even worse when I read. I am a born snacker-grazer (thank goodness I love carrots) and one of my pet peeves when reading an otherwise engaging book is the lack of any mention or description of food. Whether the characters are dining on lobster bisque at a five-star luxury resort, or heating up beenie-weenies on a campfire, I want to know. 

Food, to me, is vital to a story: Meg's first disastrous dinner "party" in Little Women; Proust and his madeleine dipped in tea; "Babette's Feast"; Like Water for Chocolate; William Saroyan eating a messy peach in The Human Comedy. In other words, a story without food is like some miserable diet--impossible to follow!

Both the consumption and preparation of food can play a magical part in your own writing. For instance,
  • Food can be the basis of an entire memoir: one triggered by family recipes; favorite holiday meals; what you cooked when where, and why; favorite cookbooks; good and bad restaurant experiences. Tip: a fun way to start is to write a recipe as a letter to a friend--real or imaginary. Spin off into tangents of freewriting as you go.
  • Food can be the subject of a poem or short story, or a whole collection.
  • Food and meal prep can be great ways to "show, don't tell" when exploring fictional characters, and even writing action scenes. What do your characters love, hate, won't for anything? What about their attitudes to cooking--good, bad, indifferent? Do they prefer to order take-out? How do they feed kids, pets, spouses? Are they vegetarian, gluten-free, suffer from unusual food allergies? What's their favorite snack, adult beverage, brand of chocolate? There are so many possibilities I sometimes think you could write a complete character-bio made up solely of food choices and experiences.
Some other ways to include food in your writing can be to:
  • Create a character who specializes in food preparation and the pleasures of the table: A chef, a restaurant owner, a food critic, an artisan cheese maker.
  • Dig into cookbooks and food magazines. Both are excellent resources when you need to find new meals for your characters to enjoy, especially if you're writing about characters in foreign settings. I'm a great fan of food magazines in particular and often cut out the actual recipes along with the accompanying gorgeous photos to place in my work-in-progress files. The photos can later be used for painting references and collage elements. 
  • Use your favorite restaurant as a setting. Better yet--try writing while you're there!
  • Never overlook the opportunity to write your own cookbook, how-to article, or restaurant review, whether for print or online. The same applies to starting and maintaining a food blog if you find yourself falling in love with the idea of culinary writing in all its many aspects.
However you choose to write about food, the one thing I'd like to suggest is never ignore it. There's nothing worse, I think, than to read about a character who never eats unless he or she is some kind of mystic or suffering from an eating disorder. I once read an otherwise excellent mystery set in Barcelona, the home of the world's best tapas, where the characters lived on nothing but coffee. They didn't even get cake! I couldn't stop wondering how they maintained enough energy to catch the bad guys when they never stopped at a single cafe or convenience store. I was starving by the time I finished the book. 

Tip of the Day: As fun as it is to gorge characters on sushi and streudel, you don't want to bore your readers with endless step-by-step descriptions of all-day banquets or baking marathons. Like the best recipes: keep it light, keep it simple, and always keep it tasty. Bon app├ętit! 

P.S. The good news is my mouth is on the mend--I'll soon be crunching on those yummy carrots in no time at all! See you next time.

1 comment:

Sue said...

So glad you like some mention of food in a good story! Food is a big part of life and when socializing too. Wonderful thoughts and tips on including it in writing.