Writing with Food

Pink rice balls shaped to look like cute pig faces.  Small hard boiled eggs and misc vegetables cut into flower shapes. All in a bento lunch box.

Pink Piggies Bento by gamene CC 3.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/gamene/4425413861

I once read a piece of writing advice that said the first thing to edit out of your draft is food. If a character is eating, axe it. Preparing food, slash it. Looking at food, gone.

Perhaps my memory is a bit harsher than the actual advice, but the basic idea was that if you’re having a character eat just to give them something to do, you can do with out it. The advice is closely tied to the idea of not showing every minute detail of living.

She got up. She brushed her teeth. She got dressed and then got in the car.

I can fall into that trap when I don’t know what the scene is about…but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about food.

I love food. When I plan a trip, the first thing I decide on is which local delicacies and favorites I’m going to try. The sightseeing fits in around that.

Am I crazy? Maybe, but food is important to human culture. Comfort food anyone? When someone is sick – chicken soup. When someone dies – casseroles. When someone gets dumped – ice cream. Food can emphasis what’s happening in a scene.

Food can identify where a character is from. In college, one of my friends excitedly told me that her mom had sent chile. She planned on smothering her eggs with it — a taste of home. She was talking about hot, spicy chiles from her home state of New Mexico. Not having grown up there, I heard chili and assumed she meant meat and beans. The idea of putting that on eggs turned my stomach. Of course, she’d never heard of beer cheese, a party staple where I grew up.

Since food is so cultural, you have to be exact. A Baptist isn’t going to show up to a sick friend’s house with matzo ball soup…or if she does, that tells us a lot about her character.

I’m not arguing that a lot of food can’t be cut out of first drafts. However, it should be cut selectively, not wholesale.


6 thoughts on “Writing with Food

  1. bethfinke

    Our book club meets at my house this month. I always try to serve food related to the book we’re reading. I wish more authors would mention food in their books – it’d give me more options!

  2. Great post! And I agree that food is important (well, not for certain undeads over here. I’m not doing pages and pages of thinking about the food that they don’t eat). For me, food is like sex and taking a shower and shaving etc. If it’s important to the character in the story, or if it tells us something about that character or is otherwise useful, it should be included.
    Also, I think a lot of these pieces of advice depend on the level of detail in a story. If the protagonist doesn’t just wear “a dark suit”, but “a charcoal grey single breasted Hugo Boss suit with subtle, black pin stripes, two buttons and notched lapels and an off-white silk tie from Amarni (etc.)”, it may almost be strange not to mention what he has for breakfast.
    The protagonist of my last story liked cooking and his significant other was very into wine. So there were quite a few eating/drinking related scenes in that one.

  3. Yes, it would be awful to have a book about a chef and not talk about food…

    It’s probably better that you don’t taunt your undead with pages of food they can’t have. Ha ha. Although, I remember the narrator in “Interview with a Vampire” describing blood as being like orange juice. I wonder what your undead would say!

    Glad you’re back.

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