I’ve always wanted a job writing menus for restaurants. To me, menus are a form of word alchemy. Lumps of meat become braised lamb, loin of pork, rump steak. Stew is transformed into cassoulet or bouillabaisse. The humble spud is sautéed or gratinated. Cheese isn’t just cheese. It’s Crozier Blue, Peccorino, feta. And all these delights are served on a bed of vegetables.
I do get a chance to wax lyrical about food in a blog I write for a restaurant in Cork. And I’m not alone. Never have so many acres of print been devoted to food, whether it’s cookbooks, food blogs, food memoirs, or food-themed novels and short stories. Maybe it’s because we now live in an age where we have the luxury of viewing food as a sensual pleasure, even in a recession. But it’s more likely to be because food offers endless possibilities to writers.
So how can food enhance your writing (aside from the mountains of chocolate you eat to comfort yourself when the words won’t flow.
You can create a feast for the senses. Writing about food gives you the opportunity to tap into all five of your senses when you write: the pop of newly-shelled peas, the bitter-sweet smell of an orange, the sight of a sumptuous, cream-topped dessert. With a few words, you can make readers’ mouths water.
Get an insight into your characters: It’s the little things that make characters come alive. And their attitude to food says a lot about them. If they deny themselves food, what else are they denying? If they overeat, are they trying to comfort themselves and why?
Food packs an emotional punch. Food is bound up with our memories and our emotions. Eating certain foods immediately conjures up memories of family meals when we were young, or meals we ate on special occasions. Tapping into that memory bank can add real resonance and power to your writing.
To exploit its dramatic potential. Meals provide a great backdrop for conflict between characters. It gives you an opportunity to bring your main characters together and test how they interact. You can use the food as a trigger for conflict, since it provokes a strong emotional response in so many people.
We can all relate to food: We all eat food. And we all spend a fair amount of time thinking about it. So a story about food reflects our own interests and concerns. People enjoy reading about other people eating. They get to take part in the feast without having to worry about the calories!
What’s your favourite food book, either fiction or non fiction? How does it use food to stimulate the senses, to capture the essence and the emotions of the characters?