This discussion honestly comes at the most perfect time because tomorrow’s post is all about the recipes that I want to try this summer with fresh fruit in season, and I’m always ready to shout about food in books. This is also your future warning that all of my books have copious amounts of food in them. You will be hungry while reading, and I am not at all sorry.
Because seriously??? Why don’t people eat in books! It’s actually insane to me. I can understand why people don’t eat in movies, though it still irks me. We’ve got maximum two hours of screen time for a standard movie, and there’s usually so much that has to get done that there isn’t really all that much time to show characters hanging out and eating. Although, as I’m saying this, it’s while I’ve been thinking about The Old Guard for a week straight, and actually? Not only do we get to see the immortal gang have dinner together (among other meals), we also get to see them sleeping several times, and I think I’m going to start holding all movies to the superior standard of The Old Guard.
Though, when you think about it, LOTR was already ahead of the game. I recognize this was a post meant to talk about books, and here we are discussing movies, you’re fine, they’re all adaptations. There’s so much food in LOTR, though! Even in the books, not just the movies. I mean, the potatoes line is literally iconic!
Even beyond the potatoes, there’s so much food in LOTR, and I really appreciate it. I know it’s aggravating for actors to have to eat during scenes, and I totally respect that, but think about it. Every single culture in the world is revolved around two things: food and faith. At the root of our cultures, we’ve built our cities around places of worship, and we’ve built our communities around food. One of the main ways that I was able to finally bring some Portuguese culture into my family home was to start cooking food that they would like. It seems like such a little thing, I know, but food brings people together. That scene with the Avengers eating at the shawarma restaurant at the end of arguably the best Marvel movie? People love that scene. It’s silly, and you’ve got to sit through so many credits to see it, but you can bet that every single person that rewatches The Avengers ends up waiting for that scene because it’s so great. It’s showing all these characters, who have been brought together under strange and unexpected circumstances, coming together again, BY CHOICE, to eat together. Because that’s what people do. When things are weird or uncomfortable, we converge around food.
I’m meeting a few of my best friend’s friends in June, and while I was originally nervous about it, we’ve decided to meet each other over a midnight picnic. Not only does taking it out of the daytime take away some of the anxiety of meeting new people since everything just immediately feels magical and mysterious at night, but coming together over food means that we’re showing each other the secret parts of ourselves without actually doing it out loud. When you bring food to something, you’re saying, in subtle, sweet ways, this is who I am. You’re showing a little piece of your heart in the food that you share.
Most of the books that I’m able to think of off the top of my head that feature food aren’t fantasy, either, and that’s the thing that really gets me. Yes, do I love With the Fire on High an immense amount, much of that based purely on the fact that it’s food-based? Of course. I love food. I am always hungry. I bought that book so fast, and it was 100% because of the food on the cover, and I was so hyped to not only see food featured in the book, but the whole plot centered around it. That almost never happens! And I truly don’t know why. Food is love. Food is at the heart of so many of our stories. Pretty much any story that I tell people begins with the food that we were eating.
One of my favorite things that happens with food in books is when the recipes are included, too. I know this is a little over the top and definitely can’t happen all the time, and it is asking a lot of the authors, but it’s so much fun! I was overjoyed to see recipes in the back of Midsummer’s Mayhem, particularly because the whole book was just making me salivate with wanting. And even when there aren’t recipes, it still ends up being something that I crave, something that I’m tempted to find a recipe for and make it myself. I’ve been a vegetarian for a few years now, but there is a weird part of me that craves the goulash from DOSAB all the time. Why? Well, it’s not because of the goulash. It’s because of the incredible atmosphere of Poison Kitchen, the friendship between Karou and Zuzana, this thread that ties them together and keeps bringing them back. It’s the nostalgia that Karou feels when she’s worlds away and just wants to be sitting at the coffin table with Zuzana, eating goulash, because that’s where she feels safe. That’s where she feels at home.
Practically, though, where most of my anger comes from when food isn’t included in books is that literally every single fantasy character would be dead before they even got halfway on whatever quest they’re charging headlong through. I mean, y’all. Why are you so dumb? In the book I was just reading, the character’s been in a comatose state for several days, and, when he finally wakes up, he’s like, “I don’t need rest! I am a man! I can do anything!” Bro, eat some toast. Take a nap. Drink some godsdamn water. (Oh my gosh, don’t even get me started on the fact that the first thing he drinks when he wakes up is coffee. JUST NO.) Also, please don’t take this as a sign that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy The Serpent’s Curse. I did, I’m just mad no one eats ever.
Fantasy characters, more than anyone else, need to be shown eating in their stories. And if we set aside all the character development and plot enriching reasons for why that makes sense, just think about it practically. The Candle & the Flame is amazing book for a lot of reasons, but one of my main ones is how often the characters eat. It makes so much sense! Not only is food a comfort for the characters, something to calm them down after chaotic events, it literally keeps them going. Our bodies are not made to power through with no sleep, no food, and no water. Human bodies are so fallible, and they need sustenance to keep going.
It makes no sense when characters don’t take care of themselves. I don’t care how grimdark you are. I don’t care how edgy your haircut is. I don’t care what trauma you’ve survived to turn you into this brooding asshole. Even Kaz Brekker eats, soooo??? Honestly, the amount of waffles referenced in the Crows duology is an actual godsend because IT MAKES SENSE. Granted, pretty much the only thing those characters ever eat is sugary foods, and while their teeth are definitely going to rot out of their heads, they will at least move forward successfully through their heist because they’re not fucking hungry.
Oh, I’m getting ragey, whoops.
Look, my fellow writers, please make your characters eat food. If for nothing else but that they are going to fall over dead halfway through your novel from literal starvation, put food in your books. And if you want to do it for more than practicality, there are so many beautiful reasons to have your characters sit down around a table of food. I’m not joking when I say that there is, at minimum, one grand meal in every single one of my books. It’s usually a potluck, and it’s usually influenced by each character’s cultures, and it’s not just a way to bring all those characters together. It’s a way to show each of the cultures, to show the foods that matter to them, that are at the heart of their individual cultures and, by extension, at the heart of themselves. And if it’s not bringing people together, it’s meant as a balm. When one of them is feeling chaotic and out of sorts, polvorones for everyone. When too much is going on and there needs to be a beat of quiet, tea for everyone.
And that’s not just practicality. (It is because holy shit all of my characters would be dead so fast if they didn’t eat, and so will yours!) It’s good writing. It’s such an easy tool to not only develop individual characters, but relationships between characters, too. Eating together lowers barriers, even if that’s not explicitly written about. It’s going to happen anyway because food is magical. Food is love. It’s one of the most powerful hearts in the world, and I don’t understand why more people don’t utilize the hell out of it.
I want to say this is nitpicky and feel free to ignore me, but it’s not because it bothers the hell out of me with every damn fantasy book I read where no food is ever mentioned. It doesn’t make sense, and you’re wasting time on heavy-handed development when your characters could literally just bond over bacon and call it a day.
Anyway, above are three amazing fantasy books that also feature food!