Nov 27, 2011

food. and why it is important (besides keeping you alive).

I have a secret. Well, it's not really a secret as much as a previously undisclosed fact. Which I will now share with you.

I am a foodie.

I love food. Salty food, sweet food, fatty food, healthy food. I love it all. I don't discriminate. The holidays are some of my favorite times of the year because of this. Oh, I love family and presents and Christmas trees and fires. But I also, very much, love the food.
Husband and I are fortunate to have friends and family who love food as much as we do. Which is why I had not one, not two, but FOUR Thanksgiving meals this past week. They were all so, so delicious. Cranberry sauce, turkey, mashed potatoes, Thai butternut squash soup...

I was talking with someone recently about The Hunger Games. Person in question looked at me and said, "The book is really just all about food." I was very puzzled at this, since the book is actually about children slaughtering each other in a huge death-trap arena. This person went on to explain, "In the beginning of the books, Katniss has a very hard time finding food. And her trip to the Capitol was defined by lots of lavish descriptions of food. I mean, the author spends pages describing the different kinds of food. And the title of the book is The Hunger Games."

This statement got me thinking about the role of food in books, especially YA fantasy novels. If you look at most books that have a good, convincing fantastical world, you will probably find excessively detailed descriptions of food. The kind of descriptions that make your mouth water and send you running to the pantry to find a snack that is at least somewhat close to the recipe in question. It's my opinion that food, and the convincingly real, drool-worthy descriptions of it, is an essential world-building tool. Here's why.

1. Your characters have to eat (unless they are undead vampires or immortal fae). When you describe the foods they eat you are helping your reader see them as real people.

2. World's that are not like our own are also made more convincingly real by the foods that they eat. Especially if the foods are slightly different from what exists in the real world. Maggie Stiefvater just did a lovely post on imaginary foods and how she tried to create them in her own novel.

Think about it. The Harry Potter books have at least three feasts featured in each one, all of them describing delicious sweets and dishes we've never tasted. And who hasn't wanted to try butterbeer? (I have yet to go down to Orlando and try some for myself, but I'm of the firm conviction that it tastes like melted down butter rum Lifesavers (which I happened to be eating when I first read about butterbeer)).

Another books series I read a lot of when I was younger was the Redwall series. There are at least five pages out of every book dedicated solely to the description of food and drink. Wild mushroom flans.  Strawberry cordial. Dandelion fizz. Characters even instruct you on how to make these delicious treats: "See this apple? Stuff the corehole with candied chestnuts and a driblle of honey, bake it in the oven, then serve it piping hot with meadowcream." (Outcast of Redwall, 173). Um, yum?

Looking back on my own projects I haven't focused on food quite as much as I should. Upon such reflection this will change. Of course, it helps to have main characters who eat. Maybe I should focus on that first.

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