Eating – A Humanizer in Stories Ancient and New

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From: Wikipedia-Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush

From: Wikipedia-Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush

Those of you who keep up with me, might have noticed I occasionally blog about food and eating, especially if it’s weird, or has futuristic nuances. If you’re interested in past articles, I pasted the links below.

A recent National Geographic article, The Joy of Food, piqued my interest with the opening quote:

“What is it about eating that brings us closer together?”

I’d like modify it to reflect a writer’s view of it.

What is it about eating that enhances a story?

The article’s author, Victoria Pope, offered the following commentary.

“The sharing of food has always been part of the human story … ‘To break bread together’, a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, and provoke laughter.”

In creating contemporary fictional scenes, epic fantasy moments, or science fiction settings, food and the act of eating, humanizes a story.  Our mouth waters with tantalizing narrative of baked goods and braised stew. Romance tickles when someone gently hand-feeds a morsel of food to a love interest. Intrigue is piqued while supping with the Crawley family in “Downton Abby”.  Warmth ebbs in our bones when fantasy characters share spit-roasted game around a campfire in the dead of winter. We sigh when a dysfunctional family banters happily, setting aside for a moment, that which keeps them apart.

Forging relationships or provoking laughter, unfortunately, is not always a writer’s intent. Food is a defining ambience with apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Driven back to our hunter-gatherer forbearers, societies are demoralized with heart-wrenching memories of how abundant food once was. Haves and have-nots when food is scarce, polarize villages, communities, entire nations. Today’s colloquialism of the “1 %” bracket is oppressive as ever.  Food as common currency is reborn, services available to fill the belly.  Suzanne Collin’s “Hunger Games” trilogy is an excellent example of this.  S.M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire” serialized life when the power goes out … forever.  The taste and smell of canned foods defined the setting for Susan Pfeffer’s “Life As We Knew It”.   Humanity on the brink of extinction, Christopher Nolen’s “Interstellar”, painted somberness from food-blighted, agrarian collapse.

In fantasy tales, food weighs heavily when portraying communal tables, customs, folklore, and regional diversity.  George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series is rich with culinary indulgence and subsistence living. Tolkien’s Hobbits are quiet, yet passionate diners. Elves are vegans, and dwarves … well … they’ll eat anything that isn’t green. Robert Jordan’s 14 book “Wheel of Time” series has more eating scenes than grains of sand in the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass. Vampire feeding is a genre unto itself. Opinions vary on what Zombies find nutritious.

Science fiction poses a stronger challenge.  When building alien worlds, writers have to define characteristics of sentient alien life.  I still shake my head at campy representations in early movie and TV shows (like both versions of “The Visitors”).  Babylon 5 was a jewel of multiple alien interactions, all with unique culinary customs.  Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow”, did a masterful job of characterizing alien beings by what they shared with pioneering visitors from earth.  Hard-core Star Trek fans can cite Klingon fare as if reading from a menu.  One of my favorite movies is Matrix, where human “copper-tops” dream of real food, but real people subsist on something resembling watery eggs.  Has all the body needs, amino acids, proteins ….”  The very sight of it made me gag.

Eating is the ultimate show versus tell enhancer.

A shy man with a sexy, blind first date at a local watering hole.  He felt a need to cross his legs when she sucked on a rib bone with the flourish of a week-old calf, working for every drop of udder milk.

An old man in a poverty-stricken village of a fantasy tale.  “He shooed white-bodied flies from his half-eaten meal of boiled lake-weed and dried goat. The meager supper would soon be swarming with wiggling maggots. Still, he covered the bowl, the sparse fare being too valuable to throw away.”

A girl in trapped on an alien platform. The protein offering resembled a rat carcass she once dissected in biology. Spinach-like green glop floating in a gelatinous broth nearly made her puke. She spit it out when no one was looking.

Hunger is the best sauce in my dystopian project, Lasty. Ten minutes she droned on about the blessings of having a roof, health, food, fellowship, pick a subject.  My gullet gurgled from the scents of simmered meat stew.  Mom shot me an annoyed glance. Stomachs had a mind of their own. Mine rattled the prison bars with its empty tin cup.

A story lacking a good eating scene falls short in illustrating a fundamental anthropological trait, not to mention, missing out on a lot of fun writing.

What’s my favorite eating scene.  Have to turn the clock back to the 1963 movie adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel set in the British eighteenth-century, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, where the handsome Tom and his dining partner wordlessly consume an enormous meal while gazing lustfully at each other.

That’s what I call eating.

If you have a favorite eating scene from a book or movie, let us know about it in the comments.

 

Past articles about food.

What’s On Your Plate In 200 Years?

Expiration Date – Never

Bacon and the Apocalypse

Bride of Frankenchicken

How Do You Like Your Schmeat?

Stay in Lane

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From: 72soul@DepositPhotos.com

From: 72soul@DepositPhotos.com

First week of the New Year has come and gone, and I have yet to spend much time thinking about it. I have a good excuse (don’t we all). I’ve been out west the last few weeks, spending holidays with my new grandson. He manufactures enough drool in one day to fill a 55-gallon drum and I find the experience somewhat fascinating. Has to be a cottage eco-industry here somewhere.

I’m not much of a resolution person, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think about a need to hit the refresh button. Last year found me spending way too much time on social media, and not enough time on the reason I showed up in the first place, writing stories. Upside, I am slowly building a twitter following of like-minded individuals, my blog is attracting more followers every month, though Pinterest has become the equivalent of social media crack. I’ve learned more this past year with respect to the craft. Be surprised how much we think we know, but don’t. And to throw a few marbles on the hardwood floor beneath our feet, the industry continues to evolve, with heavy influences of Darwinism in which established species grow stronger and organisms able to uniquely specialize, inherit the earth.

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Bright Be The Light That Brings You Home

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From: Erhlif - DepositPhotos.com

From: Erhlif – DepositPhotos.com

Shortest day of the year is upon us.  Unless you’re lucky to live near the equator, winter is more dark hours than light, nature of our celestial place in the cosmos. Before the grumbling begins about old man winter, we’ll revel in the season with lighted decorations, lots of edible goodies, cheer, and the warm embrace of family and friends.  Through the years, my life’s journeys have carried me far from home shores, often for long periods, with coming-home-itus acute. No one feels this more pointedly than men and women in active military service.

Longing to come home is integral to the human spirit. Waiting is the other half of this longing; people on opposite ends of an invisible string pulling toward each other.

Deep is the darkness that falls down on me
Long is the long night ’til morning will be
Bright be the north star to shine constantly
‘Til winter brings you home safely to me

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A Little Progress On My Wish List

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From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

Last year about this time, I waxed curmudgeonly on Things I’m Still Waiting For, like interplanetary ion drives, flying cars, hover boards, to mention a few.  Time magazine’s recent Best Inventions of 2014 review, has some interesting items for consideration.

First out of the chutes is a real-life hover board, not unlike the one I drooled over in the movie Back to the Future. Not exactly the fly anywhere version Michael J. Fox used, but it’s a start.  We’re still shooting objects into space via 1950’s style ballistic missiles, but it’s getting cheaper.  India just parked a satellite in Mars orbit for the paltry sum of $74 million.  Hell, that’s less expensive than retiling the old Space Shuttle.  Fossil fuel sourced energy is more popular than ever, but Lockheed’s development of a High-Beta Fusion Reactor, just might get us closer to the holy grail of nuclear fusion.  Molecular X-Rays (images of body at molecular level) might bring Dr.McCoy of Star Trek, back in vogue. The humanitarian invention of the year is a filtration system that scrubs Ebola virus from the blood stream.

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Are You Going To Eat That?

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From: DepositPhotos.com

From: DepositPhotos.com

Diehards nationwide are lining up to run in the holiday Turkey Trot.  Imagine a marathon of a different kind.  Participants hop about like caged rabbits on too much caffeine, flabs of steel barely contained by Kevlar reinforced spandex. It’s a record crowd of sumo wrestler contestants with tattooed contest numbers emblazoned on their foreheads, waiting for the starting gun for this year’s Blubber Trot.  First hundred finishers get to be first in line at the communal Horn-of-Plenty table.  Those who don’t finish, have to watch Hunger Games 3 without popcorn. Paying spectators will be allowed wander the leftover carnage and ask, “Are you going to eat that?”

It’s my annual humorous take on what I blithely refer to as the advent of blubber season (see last year’s article, Tis the Season to be Gluttonous).  The holiday season is like no other time of the year.  We dust off the George Bailey personality left in a drawer from last year, greet everyone like family, and gorge like our prehistoric forbearers did when they felled a mammoth.  Would you like leg meat or trunk? 

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The Apocalypse Beneath Our Feet

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National Geographic - Aug 2009

National Geographic – Aug 2009

For those of us who write dystopian/apocalyptic fiction, doesn’t seem to be any shortage of theories on what could steer humanity (and other life forms) toward the extinction exit ramp. Current scare of the year is pandemic disease, aka Ebola, and any evil progeny that mutates. Modern NASA satellite tracking hardware has made us more aware of the many PHAs (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) with our name on it. Anders Sandberg has an “existential list” compiled of Five Biggest Threats to Human Existence, number one being the ever-popular nuclear war jitters.  I found his fifth candidate interesting, if not thought provoking; – unknown unknowns – or something deadly out there that we have no clue about.

I have my own list, which includes that which bubbles beneath our feet; – millions of tons of molten Mother Earth, looking for an exit. No finer example of it is right here in North America, a super-caldera beneath Yellowstone National Park.

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Just Ctl – Alt – Delete Me

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From: DesignPicsInc - DepositPhoto.com

From: DesignPicsInc – DepositPhoto.com

“Grandpa, No. Double click the Internet Explorer icon, then download the updated App. That should fix it.”

 

This is supposed to be the time I help the younger generation, drawing on lessons from decades of life experience. Unfortunately, I’m too busy trying to keep up with ever changing technology, code words that come with it, and service websites that have become minefields of ineptitude.  Synchronizing the new TV to the internet requires a college course on WiFi gobbledygook. My cell phone is about as intuitive as programming a satellite launch. Passwords now require mixed characters. Took a month to set up my website, and I used a preexisting template on WordPress, but why do I have to learn HTML code?  Don’t get me started on widgets.

I know, we’ve been down this road before (see Texting – Conversational Spam), but technology and the software it comes with, is supposed to make life easier, not drive us to excessive use of pharmaceuticals. No, it’s not a sign of my age, wishing for a simpler life.  It’s that embarrassing call to kids still in diapers, to sheepishly ask for advice when things go haywire.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Scantily Clad

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From: Pinterest.com Legend of the Cryptids - applibot

From: Pinterest.com Legend of the Cryptids – applibot

In setting up my web site graphic, Searching for Light in the Darkness, I put a lot of thought into the graphic art to fit the brand (translation: burned-up days surfing the internet for artists and sites).  It was by pure luck I stumbled on Lori Nix’s “The Library” (thank you Google Search).  I get numerous positive hits on my profile page on about.me because of Lori’s unique dioramic photography.

I put the same amount of effort when working on characterization for my stories. I’m always on the hunt for that perfect face to fit a character; that unique combination of setting and portraiture that might even make a good book cover.  Sites like Pinterest, DeviantArt.com, and other graphic artist sites offer a plethora of ideas. When I find one I like, I collect them on my Pinterest Characters Board for future reference.

I’m in the middle of rewriting a fantasy; contemporary gal crash lands in a dark-ages alternate world, almost hanged as a witch, has to fight an ancient darkness, death, dismemberment, general mayhem – good wholesome fun. In my search for concept character art to fit the story setting, I discovered a disturbing trend.

What is with graphic art portrayals of warrior women in outfits befitting a harlot?

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Bacon – Won the West, Men’s Hearts, and maybe the Apocalypse

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From Wikipedia Commons: Bartolomeo Passarotti – The Butcher Stall

From Wikipedia Commons: Bartolomeo Passarotti – The Butcher Stall

Bacon has seen a resurgence of popularity in recent months (not that it hasn’t been a durable headliner for those of us who enshrine smoked meats). Our local AA baseball team is hosting Bacon Days Friday and Saturday, September 19-20, a celebration of America’s favorite artery-clogger, to start with a 5K run that includes a stop to eat bacon.  You can read about it in the Morning Call, but I’ll venture a guess the event won’t be mentioned in Runners World.

I’m an enthusiast of foods we might see in the aftermath of apocalyptic events (see my earlier article, Expiration – Never). The cured and smoked belly of Sus scrofa domesticus, better known as the domesticated descendent of the wild boar, has been a part of ancient societies for thousands of years.  Along with flour, beans and brown sugar, it kept people alive when pioneers wagon-ho’d to the Wild West. You could say bacon is a founding food. It’s a national treasure, like the bald eagle.

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Going Off Grid for a Human Touch

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From: CursedSenses - DepositPhoto.com

From: CursedSenses – DepositPhotos.com

Been a while since my last blog post (a phrase hauntingly reminiscent of my parochial school years), but I have a really good reason.  I’ve reached a new phase in my life, grand-parentage. Took a few weeks off to trek out west, where daughter number one has brought into the world an amazing baby boy.  Though I brought tools to write on the road, the creative keyboard went untouched in favor the simple act of belonging.

I wrote about such silence last year in Going Off The Grid.  That incident was less voluntary; influenced by geography and lack of signal.  I remember it being inspirative; separated from the noise of media input. My senses rekindled a childhood when social media used voices and a high tech communication device called a telephone.

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