Uses for Food in Fiction

The Avengers post-credits scene

The Avengers post-credits scene

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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37 Responses to Uses for Food in Fiction

  1. Oh yes, one can always find conflict around a plate of food. I’m left to thinking of those nasty jellybeans find in Harry Potter.

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  2. Meredith says:

    I’ll remember this.

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  3. renxkyoko says:

    I love shawarma. It’s a Meditirenean beef that is eaten as sandwich filling, or filling for whatever, like for taco. I don’t know why it’s not popular here in the US. it ‘s very delicious. It’s very popular in the Philippines… almost like a street food… well, not really, but it’s everywhere… .

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  4. L. Marie says:

    I’m enjoying this food series! I haven’t had shawarma, but I’d love to try it.

    I recently saw Stargate (the movie) again, so I’m reminded of a scene where the main characters ate some kind of creature that one of the charaters describe thusly: “Tastes like chicken.” The creature, however, looked disgusting. It provided a little bit of conflict in the story while highlighting the cultural differences.

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    • Things always seem to taste like chicken. There’s a lot of gross foods in cinema and TV though. Who could forget the monkey brains of Temple of Doom? Especially when people keep bringing it up. 🙂

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  5. Harliqueen says:

    Food really can help set the scene or help figure out characters more deeply 🙂

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    • I heard someone once say that scenes like this are where characters put their guard down too. Might be something to that.

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      • Harliqueen says:

        That’s a very good point, and something I’d never thought of.

        Also, it’s a great time to see how different characters react. For example at a big feast, who would be all polite and who would just dive in? It’s a really interesting thing.

        Great topic! 🙂

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      • Funny that you mention that because there’s a scene in my 4th book that work that way. The warriors that haven’t eaten all day dive in like pigs while the ones who weren’t put in jail for a day look at them with shock.

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  6. Can’t beat a scene when a character smacks another with some food. I’m thinking custard pie or spaghetti

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  7. estyree says:

    I just found an old novel that I started on years ago in which I use food as a way of showing off for one of my character’s who has psychic powers and wants to impress the new girl…nachos and Dt. Coke anyone? 🙂

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  8. I’m loving the food series, Charles – as you said, just the way characters approach food can be really revealing about cultural, personal and familial issues. And as John said, a little food fight and humor with food never hurts – or can, in the case of the day-old bread 😉

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  9. LindaGHill says:

    This is great, Charles. You’ve given me some ideas. 🙂

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  10. Cherlies, Charles. Even vampires shouldn’t talk with their mouths full.

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  11. Jack Flacco says:

    Great topic. I can always tell if an author enjoys their food in real life by how many scenes in their book involves food and by how they describe the food. It’s not easy because there are so many limiting factors describing an action pertaining to the consumption of edible goods. For instance, there is only so many ways to show how a character drinks their soda (“Jamie drained the glass and poured another.”) is one of my favorite. But, you mentioned about cultural depth. I don’t know if The Sopranos would have been such a success if the producers didn’t include food in their storylines. It sure makes for an interesting story, for sure!

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