Ate Is Enough

Food in fiction! It’s fun, it’s relatable, and it can tell readers something about the novels’ characters and settings.

I previously discussed food in fiction in 2012, when writing about books for The Huffington Post. Yes, that piece was published more than eight years ago — a span of time during which a person can build quite an appetite…for writing about food in fiction again. This post will mention some of the novels I talked about back then, along with various books I’ve read since.

On Friday, I finished The Hundred-Foot Journey, a compelling novel whose India-born protagonist Hassan Haji (seen above in the 2014 movie version) eventually becomes a top chef in Paris. Author Richard C. Morais’ word pictures of Indian cuisine (which Hassan first cooks) and French cuisine (which Hassan shifts to and becomes even more expert at) are intensely vivid, reflect all kinds of cross-cultural currents, and depict the conviviality of sharing excellent restaurant meals. Heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more food-focused novel. One caveat: As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I found the descriptions of killing animals, and preparing carnivorous dishes, off-putting.

Another recent novel with a food element is Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, set at a health resort where things take a disturbing turn. But the resort’s food is quite good, making for an interesting juxtaposition.

The title character in Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is admirable in various ways, with one of them being her expertise as a cook and cooking teacher.

Tita de la Garza in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is stymied in love by her mother, and is only able to truly express herself when she cooks.

Food also lends itself to humorous scenarios, as when large/buffoonish protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces operates a hot dog cart in New Orleans and ends up eating much of the product himself.

Some novels with restaurant settings don’t focus a huge amount on the food but more on the eateries as hubs where people gather and certain dramas might play out. That’s the case in Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, where hungry hobos are always welcome; and Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, whose protagonist Miles Roby runs a far-from-chic grill in Maine. Diner-type eateries also pop up in various Jack Reacher thrillers, illustrating Jack’s “everyman” preference for basic food. (I’m currently absorbed in 2020’s The Sentinel, the first Reacher novel Lee Child co-wrote with his brother Andrew.)

Lack of food can be a riveting aspect of some novels for an obvious reason: People can’t survive without eating. One powerful aspect of Andy Weir’s The Martian is Mark Watney’s struggle to create enough food to stay alive when stranded on Mars.

Going way back to 1749, Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones accentuated the potentially sensuous aspects of a meal by conflating food with sex.

In the short-story realm, Isak Dinesen’s “Babette’s Feast” is a culinary extravaganza better known for its movie version.

Books with strong food elements I mentioned in my 2012 post? Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, T.C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville, Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris, and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, among others. Plus Darryl Brock’s baseball novel If I Never Get Back, which has one of my favorite food scenes: Born-in-the-20th-century time traveler Sam Fowler gets so bored with mediocre 19th-century American “cuisine” that he goes to a home in a Chinese neighborhood and pays a total stranger to cook him a delicious meal.

Your favorite novels with food content?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about a major rent-control victory in my town — is here.

135 thoughts on “Ate Is Enough

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for following my blog. 🙂

      “Bone in the Throat” sounds excellent — and one can’t have a much better food background to write a novel than Anthony Bourdain did!

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  1. “Haunted” by Joyce Carol Oates, is a uniformly unpleasant book of 16 short stories– unsurprisingly, as the subtitle is “Tales of the Grotesque”– but it is well-made, and disquietingly memorable.

    Of these tales, the one that keeps coming to mind since the grocery shortages in the early daze of COVID (may they never return), is titled “Thanksgiving”, and concerns a boy and his father driving into an aftermath of a town in search of items for a Thanksgiving dinner. What’s on hand in the anarchic food store is at least a little spoiled, and runny, and folks are crowding in to get what they can. What exactly happened before the story began? A civil war? A natural disaster? A societal breakdown? The reader is never told.

    If I had my druthers, this story would be far more forgettable than it has proved to be– perhaps a sign of the times.

    When I first read this collection, I found it revolting, and as I seldom do, gave my paperback copy away— only a few months later, to discover I had earlier (the year before? the year before that?– it was toward the bottom of a tottering pile of books) purchased a hardback and forgotten it– by which point, the stories, despite my almost violent distaste for them, having showed their staying power in my imagination, made me keep my hardback copy.

    So, while I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it, I I do believe for those who read it, “Haunted” will always stick in the mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! That collection does sound somewhat mixed but compelling. Great description of the “Thanksgiving” story! Joyce Carol Oates is certainly an ultra-prolific author who has written in a number of different genres.

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  2. “Babette’s Feast”, ironically, was written by Isak Dinesen, who very possibly was anorexic. Food on paper, however beautifully described and lingered over, is calorie-free.

    Which somehow reminds me of a scene in a movie in which a comedy team, short on money for food, maybe the Three Stooges, maybe Abbott and Costello, fight over who got to eat the illustrations as they tear them out of a cookbook.

    On the other side of the ledger, before he crept over to join the starvers, is Russian author Nikolai Gogol, whose gargantuan appetites played hell with his digestion over his lifetime, and showed up with regularity in his fiction until he fell under the sway of an ascetic and charismatic, Father Matvei Konstantinovsky, who convinced him to stop eating– which he did. Entirely.

    An excellent and exhaustive article re Gogol and food, in his life and in his literature, is below:

    https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article/the-hunger-artist-feasting-and-fasting-with-gogol

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  3. This is one fab read!
    I do know many of the books you mention, and definitely Babette’s Feast from the movie.
    I am a vegetarian, so I totally get what you are saying about the off putting killing and preparing of flesh in The Hundred-Foot Journey. I have not read this. I probably won’t now, not that I’d ever thought of reading it. LOL!
    You have made me think of a movie, not a book. Julie and Julia is the name of the movie.
    It is about a blogger who decides to make all of the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook, and blog about each experience. This is a true story. I think the last thing she tackles is boning a duck, which totally grossed me out.

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    • Thanks so much, Resa! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

      I don’t regret reading “The Hundred-Foot Journey” — it has many good elements. But it made the killing of animals for human consumption into something vaguely “noble,” which it’s not. 😦

      I saw the “Julie and Julia” movie and loved the great acting (especially by Meryl Streep), while also being disturbed by scenes such as the one you described.

      I’m not sure if it has been the case with you, but I absolutely don’t miss meat in the least.

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      • I have been a veggie most of my life, since the day I left home. I was well on my way, as I couldn’t stand most meats.
        Not wanting to reveal my age, let’s just say I have been a veggie for at least 40 years. I have never, never, never missed meat. Just the word meat sounds sickening as I type it.
        I LOVE animals. I am so grateful physically and spiritually that I found this path in life.
        LOL! I don’t have a god, but I have the knowledge & joy that I have not been slaughtering/ nor had anyone slaughter for me.
        In my heart, I believe the world would be in a better place, if no one ate meat.
        It’s not like we are cave people, or pioneers. We have options.

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        • Impressive, Resa, how long you’ve been a vegetarian! You were ahead of your time! For me, it’s been about 20 years.

          I totally get what you’re saying — the idea of meat, and the suffering beloved animals go through, sickens me, too. Humans arbitrarily divide animals into “pets” and “food.” The thought of my sentient, intelligent, loving cat being food in an alternate universe — ugh. And of course a vegetarian or vegan diet is healthier and better for the planet.

          Thank you for the eloquent, heartfelt comment. And, yes, there are indeed options. Heck, vegetarian food is absolutely amazing these days!

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  4. Dave…Zubin Meheta… music director of the New York Philharmonic, then Isreal Philharmonic , also is a master chef, I am srure he has posted plenty of books on music.

    Actually Pandit Ravi Shankar once came to Kansas Ciry symphony to play his music.

    ” When It’s Time to Eat, Chilies Replace the Baton
    A CAREFULLY orchestrated scene unfolds time and again in restaurants around the world when Zubin Mehta, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, enters to dine. As soon as Mr. Mehta has been seated, the maitre d’hotel rushes into the kitchen to retrieve a small plate, which he then presents to the conductor at his table. Mr. Mehta reaches into his coat pocket, removes several dried hot chili pepper pods, and places them on the plate.”

    PUBLISH DATE
    May 15, 1991

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    • Sometimes Mehta rushes into a friend’s kitchen and alters dishes to spice them up. “I’m not in his special league of fire eaters, but I do admire his genuine enthusiasm and finesse in handling it,” says Jamsheed K.A. Marker, Pakistan’s delegate to the United Nations, with whom Mehta often shares potluck.

      Occasionally, Mehta ends up cooking the meal himself, as he did on a recent trip to Jerusalem during the Gulf War.

      And so he donned an apron and proceeded to cook a spicy ground meat sauce, spicy-hot roasted potatoes, cauliflower with spices, curried potatoes, egg curry and rice pilaf.

      To ensure that he never has to eat “mild” food, Mehta carries his own dried chilies, which he grows in the garden of his Los Angeles home. Fiery hot cayenne, Tabasco, scotch bonnet and bird chilies are among his favorites.”

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      • Thank you, bebe! Wow — Zubin Mehta’s eating habits are interesting! Given that he’s in his mid-80s, spicy food must agree with him. 🙂

        And I remember you mentioning that Ravi Shankar once stayed with you and your family. What an incredible experience to have had!

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        • Actually He didn’t stay with us, we did pick him up from hotel that time and showed him around.
          Had dinner one night and informed us he is a vegan like you Dave and as drink only 7up.
          Was a charming soft spoken gentleman.

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            • Actually he was thrilled to be away from some ardent fans chasing him after the concert . I may have mentioned before I cooked meat and fish and what no then He called to tell me being a vegan. Later what I cooked was horrible and he never complained 😀

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              • I can imagine how happy he was to have a little break, bebe. And with nice people like you and your family!

                Fewer people were vegetarian or vegan back then, so I can understand that his dietary preference would be unexpected.

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                • Yes he was…away from madening crown.
                  Funny I did not have a camera then, ran to K Mart and bought a 35mm Camera, He never said no for snapping photographs.
                  Next year Indian community brought him to play . I could not even go near him pushing through the crowd. I was determined, enlarged an 8X10 photographs and askerd him to sign.
                  He signed, With Love Ravi Shankar. and I framed it.

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  5. Another brilliant post, Dave, which has sparked a fascinating conversation. I have loved reading your thoughts and all the comments. I agree that the question of food often emerges as part of the shared experience of characters, and in generating a sense of place and time. Of course, the absence of food is also important. I have just finished reading Shuggie Bain, which is heartbreaking in so many ways, not least the hunger felt by Shuggie and his family. This, then, makes me think of the also heartbreaking Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy, where family poverty and a lack of food leads to dire consequences. On a lighter note, to lift this comment from its rather despairing tone (sorry about that!), albeit only to the level of melancholy, how about Proust and his famous madeleines in Remembrance of Things Past?

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    • Thanks so much, Liz! And I agree about the conversation — a wonderful one. 🙂 Including your excellent comment.

      Yes, hunger is unfortunately part of the picture when food in literature is discussed. 😦 Thomas Hardy certainly didn’t pull punches when depicting the depressing side of things.

      And Proust’s opus is of course a major example of food in fiction. Can’t believe I forgot to mention it. 🙂 (Though I only read the “Swann’s Way” part; I just couldn’t quite continue.)

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      • I’m the same re Proust – I have always wanted to try to work my way through it. I am currently participating in a “Divine Comedy Readalong” where we read a single Canto each day. It’s proving to be a marvellous way of making progress with a book which might otherwise feel too daunting. I am thinking of applying this approach to other very long classics (The Brothers Karamzov is next), plus various series of books in due course (eg A Dance to the Music of Time). A great example of less is more! 😀

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        • Yes, Liz, “In Search of Lost Time” can be a bit of a slog despite its beautiful prose and other attributes.

          Great idea to read a work like “Divine Comedy” in bite-size segments!

          I found “The Brothers Karamazov” uneven, but read it compulsively. The best parts (and there are many of them) are as good as it gets in literature.

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          • For the past several weeks, I have been reading at least one of Shakespeare’s sonnets daily. Among them I found the reason that Proust’s work was first titled “Remembrance of Things Past” for English-speaking readers: it’s a phrase out of Sonnet 30:

            When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
            I summon up remembrance of things past,
            I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
            And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
            Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
            For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
            And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
            And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
            Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
            And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
            The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
            Which I new pay as if not paid before.
            But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
            All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

            The title now in use among us English speakers is a literal translation…

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  6. Late as usual… All the best already taken, but food in fiction starts young…
    Peter Rabbit, the garden thief, munching his way around Mr McGregor’s garden, where his father met with a fairly serious accident. Swallows and Amazons, allowed to light fires, .catch and cook fish, instead of catch and release, skin, disembowel and cook a rabbit ? Not forgetting Ratty’s unpunctuated picnic..
    Not sure about green eggs and ham though. Eggs sound off, maybe the ham past sell by too ?

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    • Thank you, Esther! You commented only two days after I posted. 🙂

      Love the Peter Rabbit mention — very relevant to this topic. A number of children’s books — such as the “Green Eggs and Ham” classic you drolly referenced 🙂 — definitely have strong food elements. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” etc.!

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    • And, as a Potter character is mentioned, what about the Roly-Poly Pudding? Were it not for a canine joiner, a certain male kitten would have been baked in a pastry crust for a rat couple’s dinner!

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  7. The appreciation of food is expressed in a very large variety of ways through culture, experiences, tradition, geographic, etc, and of course means. It is said for example that a peoples of a given country ‘eat to live’ while the peoples of another country ‘live to eat’. I’ll let you figure out who is who. Apart from my early family influences, and French penchant family background, I very early became involved in gastronomy, thus so to the point of co-founding in Montreal, in 1973, with a well known artist friend, the very first ever “Club Gastronomique Mix” mix as in men an women. It was called Le Club Gastonomique de la Grande Bouffe”. Thus so after seeing the film La Grande Bouffe, a 1973 French–Italian film directed by Marco Ferreri, about a pilot (Marcello Mastroianni), a cook (Ugo Tognazzi), a TV star (Michel Piccoli) and a judge Philippe Noiret decide to gorge themselves to death on fine cuisine. The food throughout the film was prepared by the famous Paul Bocuse of the famous Lyon Fr. restaurant of the same name.
    The key to our new club being mixed was that until then, all world , primarily in France, gastronomical clubs were strictly male only membership. This was so out of line with the historic custom that we made headlines in the Paris newspapers. We eventually work up the courage to reveal our early life idiosyncrasies at least those we remember with laughter!

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    • Thank you, Jean-Jacques!

      So true that food touches on all kinds of things, as you note in your first sentence.

      And, yes, food can be looked on as basic survival sustenance or as sort of a culinary hobby.

      Wonderful that you co-founded the “Club Gastronomique Mix” in Montreal, and that it was mixed gender! All-male clubs can really be annoying and discriminatory — and of course less interesting.

      I’ve visited Montreal a number of times (four, if I’m remembering correctly) and have very fond memories of the food and restaurants there.

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    • If I could operate the ‘like’ button here, I certainly would! What a story! I like the way that art caused an imitation in life, but fortunately, not so much that anybody burst.

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  8. I haven’t read the novel Like Water for Chocolate but I saw the movie version in college, which I very much enjoyed. And I was glad to see “the Martian” get a nod here 🙂 I absolutely love that novel and its movie counterpart, and I always want potatoes after I read/watch. I’m actually reading a novel right now that makes very interesting use of food – “the Last Story of Mina Lee” by Nancy J. Kim. It’s a mystery book taking place mostly in LA’s Korea Town. Which is especially fun for me since I lived there for a short spell when I first moved to California. Kim goes into great detail about the many Korean dishes, groceries, and meals that characters share. Many important story moments take place over meals, all described in delicious detail. Food also takes on a romance element when two main characters exchange grocery items to flirt with one another. I keep getting cravings for all the great Korea Town restaurants while reading! I’m a little over half way through and it’s pretty hard to put down. I recommend it!

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    • Thank you, M.B.!

      I also really enjoyed “The Martian” novel — suspenseful, and scientific but not stuffy.

      “The Last Story of Mina Lee” sounds excellent, and full of food fare! Nice that it evokes your own memories of living briefly in L.A.’s Korea Town. A real bonus when there’s that personal identification.

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  9. Dave,Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.
    Bela both of us know about Bela,  abandoned by her mother Gouri when she was 5, grew up under the care of her uncle Subhash .

    “After college, Bela moves to Western Massachusetts and takes a job on a farm as an agricultural apprentice. She visits Subhash on the weekends, as she is not very far away, and Subhash watches as Bela grows and changes”

    Bela was not making any money but was constantly sending Subhash fruits and vegetables from the firm.

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    • Thank you, bebe! Great food mention from “The Lowland”!

      Bela and Subhash definitely had a close, warm relationship that helped make up for the death of Bela’s father and the not-good parenting of her mother.

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  10. Oh Dave ” The Lunchbox”, a wonderful movie by the great actor Irrfan Khan.
    He had fame acted in several international movies but succumbed to cancer about an year ago, the whole world cried for his untimely demise.
    He was in Namesake, Slumdog Millionaire and so many other blockbuster movies.
    I know you are not a movie watcher, but would love that film.
    But you have read Jumpa Lahiri`s Namesake…there was food in that book I am sre.

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    • Thank you, bebe!

      Such a shame Irrfan Khan died relatively young. 😦

      And I’m sure you’re right that there were food elements in “The Namesake,” an excellent novel by an excellent writer. I read it enough years ago where I’m not remembering. 🙂

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  11. I am somewhat late, Dave, because these days my cooking takes far longer, because of all the fresh vegetables which I prepare. Your choice of books concerning this topic quite remind me of these lusciurious and versatile dishes!
    I must admit that I immediately thought of Roald Dahl’s LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER, this quite macabre story, where a pregnant wife kills her husband with a lamb leg after the last one had told her that he is going to leave her. She then puts the meat into the oven and when the police is coming to make questions she invites them to share a nice meal with her.
    Many thanks and enjoy your next meal. Martina

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  12. Such great suggestions, and I’m pleased that you also liked “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” Dave! When thinking about foodie books, “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron often comes to mind. The main character, based on the author, is a food writer in the book, which also contains some recipes.

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  13. The book of Salt sounds fascinating! The LOTR reference makes me think of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones (I’m making the sweeping assumption it’s in the books….I haven’t got that far yet, I think it’ll probably take me as long to read as it’s taking Martin to write!). And on that note enjoy your Burns’ Supper! We shall have a slightly pared down version later – no whisky on a school night!

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    • Thank you, Sarah! I’ve only read the first “Game of Thrones” novel, but there are definitely some memorable food moments. And, yes, those George R.R. Martin books have stretched out over quite a few years!

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      • I got the 5 as a box set and got an heroic way through the first one! I’m quite glad that I’d watched the series from beginning to end as there are a baffling array of characters – as you’d expect – and I could at least picture them in my head. I read that Martin aims to write four pages a day, so not sure how overdue the current one is. And to keep it all on topic I shall mention the banquet in Macbeth where he is troubled by the visions.

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        • I can see how watching the TV series would help a reader navigate the books, Sarah. The first book was kind of confusing to me until I slowly got into it. Various characters indeed, and George R.R. Martin jumps around quite a bit telling things from their different perspectives.

          And the “Macbeth” banquet is a GREAT mention!

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          • I think, with the exception of something like ‘Gone Girl’, I don’t have a preference for reading something before or after an adaptation. I had the book ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ sitting on my shelf for years – I just couldn’t get into it. Then when it was made into a fantastic TV adaptation I went back to it and the story was so much more memorable – plus it helped that they’d used much of the dialogue from the book!

            And yes, dear old Macbeth – a particular favourite. The book I’m currently reading (Miss Marjoribanks) features lots of luncheons and evening soirees although doesn’t refer much to what they eat – but there’s a definite power play going on at these meals.

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            • I tend to prefer to read a novel before seeing the movie version (not that I always watch book-inspired films). Among the exceptions was seeing “Field of Dreams” before reading W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe.” Both excellent in their own ways, but some significant differences.

              I read your blog post about “Miss Marjoribanks.” Sounds like a very interesting 19th-century novel that should be better known, and your piece was excellent. Yes, many novels depict luncheons, dinners, soirees, etc., without getting into much detail about the food or drink. It’s all about the character dialogue and interactions.

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              • There’s another book that’s been mentioned on one of your posts recently (in the comments I think) that I think might be a film adaptation. I must go back through and find out what it is as it’s something I thought I might like to read. Should really get in the habit more of writing these titles down when I see them. Now. it seems, so many novels are being made into films or TV shows. I’m finding, for the most part, they’re generally quite good – or maybe it’s because they’re so appealing as there’s a lack of anything else to do!!!
                And thank you for your kind words about the post on ‘Miss M.’ I’ll be doing a follow up – more about Mrs O and my thoughts about why she has fallen by the wayside a little.

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                • “…so many novels are being made into films or TV shows” — I guess with streaming services, many cable channels, etc., lots of content is needed, and adapting novels is one way to provide it. 🙂

                  I look forward to your “Miss M” follow-up post! Will be interested to hear why you feel Margaret Oliphant and her work aren’t more known now.

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  14. Another wonderful post and discussion that had me thinking of how food has added so much to our stories, whether we think of Peter Cottontail in the garden patch or second breakfast from LOTRs. Whenever I think of books that focus on food, my thoughts go to Mark Kurlansky and his book “Salt: A World History.” There are so many marvelous stories that are tied to salt. For example, this quote: “In the Middle Ages, adultery was thought to be a major cause of the herring leaving.” And here is another thought: “It takes two years for the salt to reach the center of a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.” And that leads me to think of the Story of Salt, a Russian Folktale. How Ivan the Ninny found salt was a favourite story that Frances read to me when I was a child. And because we are celebrating Robert Burns tomorrow, I think of his Address to the Haggis”

    Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
    Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
    Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
    Painch, tripe, or thairm:
    Weel are ye wordy of a grace
    As lang ‘s my arm…..”

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  15. Two food-related stories come to mind: “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “The Hunger Artist.” The refusal to eat is a whole other facet of human experience to explore. Now that I think about it, in my own fiction, food appears when there is family dysfunction to reinforce: gelatinous aspic, Chef Boyardee beef ravioli, incendiary shrimp gumbo, and such.

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  16. Fun indeed!! Three films (only two based on novels) come to mind. “Like Water for Chocolate” already mentioned; “Chocolat” (sensing a theme here); and “The Lunchbox” (screenplay) was delightful. Oh…and “Mistress of Spices” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni whose novels I’ve devoured. 🙂

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  17. I have a few on my bookshelf as I like this combo. “Cooking With Mr. Latte” was written by Amanda Hesser when she was a food reporter and food columnist at The New York Times, the book described as a food lover’s courtship, with recipes. Also enjoyed “French Woman Don’t Get Fat” which also had recipes intertwined with chapters. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell was also a film, both recommended. Ruth Reichel who was a longtime editor at Gourmet wrote a few books,”Garlic and Sapphires” is about her time as a food critic, she uses memoir and food as delicious reads.

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    • Thank you, Michele, for mentioning and appealingly describing all those interesting books! I see there’s some nonfiction there — which, like food-themed novels, can make for some absorbing reading. Food is so relatable!

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  18. Hi Dave, The family and home springs to mind when the motif of food is used, although, of course, it’s message can be much deeper than that! Chocolat is such a charming story and is about the only one I can think of when food is the main event and at the heart of the novel (there must be many though!). With the exception of ‘A Christmas Carol’ I can’t think of specific foods as such that are mentioned in novels – although oysters are coming to mind, but I’ve been reading an awful lot of Victorian authors recently. The Ghost of Christmas Present sits on a throne of meat and is surrounded by all the trappings of what is an exceptional feast by all accounts. And food and drink also features at Fezziwig’s celebration (and, thanks to the Muppets, I now can’t get the image out of my mind of Fozzie Bear or the Giant spirit!).

    I seem to recall food being a feature in ‘Buddenbrooks’ (1901) by Thomas Mann, but as usual I can’t recall one thing about it!

    I mentioned food being central to the idea of the family. Family can feature in many different forms and the next three books are all, coincidently, set in guest houses. I’m yet to finish it but I’ll mention it anyway – ‘Old Goriot’ (1835). There’s much about what the patrons of the guest house can afford to pay for meals and there is a great deal said about the dining room in which they sit. Two particular favourite novels of mine by Patrick Hamilton, set in very British guest houses, have the characters spending an awful lot of time in the dining room, which is where the only interactions will take place of course. ‘Craven House’ (1926) spans about 30 years or so of life before and after the wars and follows the comings and goings of the guests that stay there in that time. ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ (1947) is an excellent story about the very buttoned up British and their lives and loves. The dining room in the guest house is ruled by the most boorish of guests who is a Nazi-sympathiser (and that’s not even the main part of the story!)

    At the opposite end of the scale where food is most scarce, of which there must be so many stories, I shall mention ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1939) by John Steinbeck.

    A great post that highlights the subtleties of the writer’s art, I think, with the associations of food and what it means! And I think I need to add Zola’s ‘The Belly of Paris’ to a list – so many comments here about how good it is!

    Liked by 4 people

  19. And then of course, there’s poor Oliver Twist, wanting more. I must admit I do like including a food scene in my books–in fact I think there’s one in every book, hand’t realised it before–or making it a sort of running thing. You are right that there is something about food in books. Most enjoyable post Dave.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne!

      Yes, food — and the wanting of it — is a crucial element in “Oliver Twist.” Terrific mention! And Dickens’ large canon of course has other famous food scenes, as in “A Christmas Carol.” (After I first posted this comment, I saw that Sarah mentioned “A Christmas Carol,” too. 🙂 )

      A food scene in each of your books? That’s great! Certainly relatable, a slice of life, and more!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my, I was just thinking Dickens was a foodie . There’s also that memorable scene in Great Expectations, the one where Pip is in agonies cos the pie has gone, to name another one. The attention to detail is brilliant. . Same with Christmas Carol. I should have remembered both actually because I used both way back in this Dickens piece of theatre we did with schools that involved the children at each school. I must do a post re food in my books. Even this latest one, they are holding a ball/supper. But it is in an abandoned house –houses are other things that feature big time– and they have no money, so hero and heroine ahve gone about blythely nicking everything for the table, chickens, eggs, piglets… But other times I’ve used the food supply as a power struggle between characters. Food is indeed fascinating.

        Liked by 1 person

        • PS… Thank YOU Dave for that wonderful contribution to the Mr’s album. He was having a day away from social media and all yesterday. (He has menieres and so having had a busy week last week with various things,m he was having a quiet day, but he saw this today and was very touched by your kindness. As am I xxxx

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Shehanne! Great mention of that scene in “Great Expectations”! (I had forgotten it, having read that novel long ago, in college.) Dickens was indeed so detailed and descriptive about many things, including food. And very theatrical, as you know firsthand.

          I’d love to see a post about food in your books! That scene in an abandoned house sounds amazing. And food supply can definitely become a power play; there are of course few things as crucial in life.

          Liked by 1 person

            • It has been a few years in the making and would have been done and dusted had it not been for Covid. We were at the stage before March of approaching charities and planning a release in a local record shop. But so many local musicians are behind it, even the recording studio didn’t charge full whack for their time. And once we have the pressing, we know the local press will get behind it and that the songs have worldwide appeal. The Archie Foundation Tayside is a big charity locally so it is a worthwhile ‘gig.’

              Liked by 1 person

  20. Great post and I love this theme. I previously created a list – 10 Fiction Books Featuring Food and my list included Durian Sukegawa’s Sweet Bean Paste, Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate and Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Elizabeth Acevedo and Banana Yoshimoto were also there. Passion and food sometimes go wonderfully together, underscoring the physical sensations and obsessions. Food is also a vehicle for “comfort” gatherings, such as within families, emphasizing the cosiness of the setting or the welcoming nature of characters. Murakami is another writer who loves his food in books (though I do believe “his food” is more or less inconsequential there). I also had no idea that Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers had references to food. I am now very curious!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Diana! Your list of 10 food-related novels sounds great, and I’m glad we were thinking of some of the same books. 🙂

      Food can indeed be memorable in novels for all the reasons you eloquently mentioned in your comment.

      References to food certainly don’t dominate “Nine Perfect Strangers,” but do add another layer to that multilayered novel. Not Liane Moriarty’s best novel by any means, but pretty darn good.

      Liked by 3 people

      • As I found out when making the list, there are not many to choose from, but it becomes easier when food is not the dominant factor, as you say. From my list I think I enjoyed Sukegawa’s Sweet Bean Paste the most, but I do need to re-read Esquivel.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Very true, Diana! There doesn’t seem to be a huge number of novels almost totally focused on food, but many other novels have some secondary food elements.

          I put “Sweet Bean Paste” on my to-read list! “Like Water for Chocolate”? I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I guess it was on the lighter side as magic realism-infused novels go — with some heartache, of course.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I highly recommend “Sweet Bean Paste”. It’s a little book but with a big heart and a very important message; rather simple, but very memorable. Agreed, Like Water for Chocolate is not for everyone. Since I saw the film, I think of it in terms of all the film images, and, of course, it’s nice that the book includes all the recipes, too!

            Liked by 3 people

            • Good to hear that about “Sweet Bean Paste”!

              Yes, nice that the “Like Water for Chocolate” novel includes recipes! I’m remembering at least one Fannie Flagg novel doing that, too — maybe “Fried Green Tomatoes…,” but I’m not sure. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the “Like Water for Chocolate” movie. As far as magic realism novels go, I guess I’m spoiled by ones such as Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, thevalleyfate! “Sweetbitter” is about as relevant as can be to this topic. 🙂

      I haven’t read “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” but have read several other Anne Tyler novels and like her work a lot.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Dave, it brings back the memories, I never read the book but have seen this masterpiece.
    Two acclaimed actors , Helen Mirren and Om Puri acted in this fafulous movie. Time I should borrow this book.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. I’ve been reading Emile Zola, the belly of Paris, which as you can imagine is obsessed with food. The plot sort of contrasts the contented and narrow minded fat with the skinny people aware of the real state of affairs for the poor and angry about injustice. Anyway the descriptions of carnivorous french food procedures are revolting.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, butimbeautiful! “The Belly of the Beast” definitely has its disturbing aspects. Not one of my favorite Zola novels, but, as you note, it does have a lot to say about injustice, class differences, and more.

      Liked by 2 people

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