This post appeared previously at Indies Unlimited.com.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” - Brillat-Savarin
Do you agree? I do. That is, of course, if you have the choice to consume whatever your little heart desires. Honore de Balzac was famous for the meals he consumed after the proofs of his novels were sent off to his publisher – his choice of a celebratory meal beginning with dozens of freshly shucked oysters washed down with beer. This appetizer merely whetted his craving for the ensuing feast. The school of French realism, populated with such greats as Balzac, Flaubert, Maupassant, Dumas and Zola glorified the sensual pleasure of a meal well-cooked and consumed with appreciative abandon. Can we transfer this love of food to our modern day novel and seduce our readers as these masters seduced theirs?
I started writing about food four years ago when I began my blog, The Culture and Cuisine Club. Ten friends decided to get together and cook the cuisine of one country, which was picked by the host of the evening. The host also provided the welcome cocktail, but I will reserve that tradition for another story. It was so much fun, and the food so good, that I began to write humorous posts of our evenings, and share pictures and recipes. As a result of the positive feedback, I decided to include rather extensive descriptions of food in my first novel as an experiment, inviting my readers to sample the incredible fare enjoyed by my characters. This is my style and reflects my reader’s interests, and is certainly not for everyone. But, I know I am on the right track when people ask me to make rack of lamb for them, or remark that they were hungry every time they started reading my book.
Being of Italian ancestry, I admit to being obsessed with food. We are suspicious of people who do not attack their plate with gusto. Food is love, and if I cook for you, you know I love you. And as my time spent in front of the keyboard increased I began to think of how many different ways I could use food to reveal a character’s personality as obsessive, funny, meticulous, tragic – you get the picture.
A body-builder I know exemplifies the obsessive/control scenario. She carries several containers of cut veggies with her at all time, measured by weight. Does she look great? Well, if you find the replicants attractive in Bladerunner, she’s your gal. If I had to eat like this I would die.
There are people who become obsessed with eating one particular food, like Captain Crunch cereal. They will only eat that for days on end. Yum. They turn into a crunch berry. What insight does this food choice give to a character’s spirit of adventure?
How about the woman who eats her sofa? This example, sadly, is not fiction. To her, sofa stuffing doesn’t need salt or pepper – it is delicious in its pure state. Fluffy and sweet, just like cotton candy. Poor woman, I can’t find humor in this. But, I can create a character obsessed with chewing on the wooden legs of her dining room table.
By making your character’s choice of meal a bologna sandwich on white bread you make a statement of food as a necessity, or a person who has no imagination. Change it to roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, basil and prosciutto on a crusty roll with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar … see what I mean? Both character choices say something about them.
As you can see, I lose myself in the joy of food, whether I am cooking it, eating it, or writing about it. And so, my friends, I must go now. It’s lunchtime.
“A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” – Brillat-Savarin