I think many authors overlook the versatile uses that food can have in a story. It doesn’t have to be the central focus like in the manga ‘Toriko’ where the entire story revolves around discovering new foods and recipes. (Great series by the way.) Now that series is an extreme use that doesn’t have to be added to every story. Like in the above scene that occurred after the credits of ‘The Avengers’, you can make a food scene mild and simple. Though, I have yet to figure out what shawarma is or even try it. Staying on topic, here are a few non-central uses for food in fiction:
- Cultural Depth– Every region and culture has its own culinary identity. Think of any group and you’ll probably touch on an associated food within the first minute or two. I just thought of Jews and Matzoh Ball soup and Russians and vodka. Yes, these tend to be stereotypical in our world, but it makes the point. In a fictional world, you can create local cuisine that is unique and strange. This can relate to the type of land that the culture comes from too. For example, in Allure of the Gypsies you learn that Luke Callindor’s hometown is a big supplier of honey-based products because it is in an area that is perfect for raising bees. Bor’daruk has a lot of flat breads and giant scorpion meat is a local delicacy. So think of implementing a food scene when characters reach a new location.
- Dialogues– This is one of my big uses for eating scenes. Characters need to talk about events and they commonly do so over either a meal or drinks. This allows me to have them do something while talking. Otherwise, it’s a back and forth chat where you get an image of the characters standing like mannequins. Also, I’ve found that how people eat tells a little about their personalities and you can see it when compared to each other. For example, in my series Timoran Wrath eats piles of food and takes his time. Sari snatches food off people’s plates. Delvin is rather simple and casual. Fizzle sits in the apple basket. All of this in one scene paints a bigger picture.
- Conflict– Nothing to declare war on, but characters can fight over food in some situations. This can bring in some amusement and development. Yes, I know this sounds odd. Just imagine your heroes ordering a pizza or anything where you can pick toppings. You can go the simple routes with everyone getting their own pie, they decide to order a plain pizza, or have a group of people unrealistically agree on toppings. That last one is severe fiction. Now you can also take a little time to have them argue over what to get. Again, this can demonstrate personalities and roles within the group. It can even lead to some pent up aggression coming to the surface. Maybe that warrior is still angry about his favorite sword being lost by the caster’s clumsiness. Well, they fight over the dipping sauces for the chicken and the rage bubbles into a real problem. Sounds strange, but this happens in real life.
- Threats and Villainy– Ever see a movie or read a book where the villain is eating something strange? Maybe all their threats involve eating organs. This relates to one of my favorite parts of a Spider-Man story is in a novel called ‘The Venom Factor’. I don’t remember it exactly and the book is buried in my library, but the gist is Venom threatened to eat Spidey’s spleen. After years of being threatened with brain eating, Spider-Man says he doubts Venom even knows where the spleen is. The villain’s retort, “We can find out. It might be fun.” This may be a minor use of food and a stretch of the topic, but you can also have villains physically eating disgusting things. Vampires are a good one where they’re draining a person while talking.