Food and literature


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This Document throws light on the relationship between food and writings through history, the importance of food depictions in the scriptures.

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Food and literature

  1. 1. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature Preface Since time memorial, eating has been a basic human activity, an activity which is not only necessary for continued existence but also connected with social functions. Eating patterns and rituals, the preference of dining acquaintance, and the motive behind these behaviours are basic towards nurturing an understanding of human society. Food and drink have not only spiced up but have also given an emblematic insight to the printed pages. Food and fiction paring is as old as the Bhagvad Gita, The Bible and The Vedas. It has been a constant source of inspiration, since the time ink was first put to paper. Be it a plot device or a method of revealing character-eating, drinking or merry making, food has played an important part in many of the novels, poems, and other literary works. Foods and patterns of eating and their symbolism are brought to play because of their elementary place in human life and culture. English and French writings have many a times associated bountiful supply of food with good health and festivity, while scarcity represented wretchedness. A more practical approach would be that food representation in artistic works would add a level of complexity, making everything related to food and eating a still more important issue in the advancement of a world increasingly affected by apparently unsolvable problems of hunger and satiety. But being two of the greatest pleasures of life -eating and reading- explains the fact that why food writing continues to be so popular and why magazines such as ‘Food & Wine’, ‘Conde Nast’, ‘Gourmet’ and ‘Bon Appétit’ will probably never fade away. 1
  2. 2. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature Food and Story-Telling Not to forget that when we talk of "writing about food", it doesn't indicate a transitory reference to food. It basically means a passage in a book where the author has really written about the food itself, creating both a visual and a verbal impact, and to create a mood or convey an idea. The meal is such a human endeavor that it has fed the imagination of poets and writers across the ages to provide the ingredients for many brilliant scenes. Portrayal of Food in ‘Collected Works’: Food in Culture and Memory Every culture being unique has its own traditions and rituals, its own cuisine and distinct eating habits, so is it with its food culture i.e. unique methods and technologies, growth and harvesting practices, etc. Thus events involving food-cooking to serving-help define the social organization and cultural identity of the very communities that give rise to distinct literary traditions. This in-turn evokes an avalanche of memories and feelings through food writings as food involves all the other senses too besides the taste and smell. The Meal as Communion The portrayal of meals through literature as a union of individuals and as moments of light and warmth in the dark and cold is not uncommon. The famous Christmas feast in „A Christmas Carol‟ by Charles Dickens perhaps is the best example where Scrooge‟s clerk‟s family feasts‟ on the plum pudding and roast turkey. Gargantua and Pantagruel‟s food imagery is one of the best examples of feast in the face of literature. The good-humor, triumphant feasts, the pinnacle of the development of growing food, in which mankind in communal harmony faces the world with an open mouth, gives rise to fineness in tête-à-tête, and hence to literature. A feast is not only an indicator of celebration of victory, a successful marriage, etc but also substantiation of a community. Thus Shakespearean romantic comedies such as „As You Like It‟ and the „Tempest‟, come so close. The Feast as a Focal Point of Plot Feasts are an integral part of a literary work. Although the plots are based on the human tendencies of love, conquest, betrayal, and loss, rather than food, the feast still it holds the 2
  3. 3. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature power to be a fulcrum on which a plot can turn. In Homer's work titled „Odyssey‟, Odysseus murders his rivals right after the feast of the suitors. Food and Social Healing In Dickens‟s play „A Christmas Carol‟ the character Ebenzer Scrooge a misery transforms after overlooking his clerk‟s family feast on Christmas. On that night Scrooge finds the youngest child of the family crippled and the family as a whole raising a toast to Scrooge even after his indifferent behaviour. Food in Children’s and Women literature Besides social order and civilization, food often represents the limitations imposed upon a child's world, blending well with the idea of excess as a key element of childhood fantasy or childish emotions like coziness and power struggle inherent to family dynamics. Teatime is one such imagery used to depict the states of harmony or disharmony. For example-Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1866), in which Alice learns to come to terms with the world around her via her experiences at the Mad Hatter's distinctly uncivilized tea party. Food is a powerful imagery in adult literature as well. Katherine Anne Porter and Margaret Atwood use visual images to increase the realism in their writing. Porter's Flowering Judas and Other Stories (1935) create a sense of richness and conveyed external and physical manifestation of human complexity through food details. Likewise in food used as a sensual and sensory object in poetry. Ernest Hemingway of the great literary writer was capable of creating a distinctive mood through his illusive accounts of food allowing his fictional characters the emotional access to the world they were living in. Edith Wharton has effectively used „dining rituals‟ to lay emphasis on the conflicts underneath an order as „dining rituals‟ not only reflect but also express the human desires and behaviors. Whereas authors such as Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor often use food metaphors to characterize people and their status in the society, hence accepting food as a significant indicator of civilization.. Food, feminine character and domesticity have had a pivotal place in many works of women's literature. Margaret Atwood has addressed the issues of gender, language, and sexual politics and social dislocation through food and eating disorders. In The Edible Woman (1969), Atwood has used anorexia to explore women's strategies to develop alternative languages. In Laura Esquivel‟s Like Water for Chocolate (1989) food has 3
  4. 4. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature been used as a metaphor for passion and desire. Also the kitchen has been expressed as a woman‟s domain as well as a vehicle for their creativity. (Source: 19/04/2009 at 4:20pm) Scriptures - Around The World Food till date is the greatest common denominator between different cultures. It is through food only that different people across the globe have learnt have come to know of many a things that otherwise may have remained opaque to them. One can find food linkages through the Holy Scriptures like the Bible, the Ramayana; the Vedas; literary works of Shakespeare till the 20th century literature. The BIBLE The Bible has food and drink all throughout. One of the best known linkages is that of the Last Supper- Jesus last meal with his disciples before his death which included bread and wine. Some other well known scenes are that of the feeding of the five thousand, the feast for the lost son, and the wine miracle in Cana (were Jesus turns barrels of water into barrels of wine) from the New Testament and the first Pesach meal in Egypt; Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, for whom a wild goat was substituted the manna in the desert from the Old Testament. The mention of the land flowing with milk and honey from the Old Testament spreads God‟s idea of the ideal of Egypt and that the one who curses honey and milk would be a Bible heretic. The purpose of Food imagery in the bible was, firstly to inform about the production and consumption in the area during the biblical times and also to tell how the food was prepared and its meaning henceforth. Secondly it communicates a message to the reader, for instance the theory of vegetarianism. Another important fact associated with bible is Gluttony. Bible forbids gluttony and states that, that it‟s the sins committed and not food that led to human obesity. (Source: 19/04/2009 at 11:40am) 4
  5. 5. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature Food in Nineteenth and Twentieth -Century Literature Talking about the most basic level food references in the nineteenth century literature shows the authors attempt to include practical elements from everyday life. But the differences in availability of food and dissimilarity in diet convey important cultural information on class difference. And this is well depicted through the table manners and the food feast starvation imagery signifying a class issue - the wide inequality between the rich and the poor. Another instance that justifies the above fact is standard time for eating the main meal of the day which changed over time. Maggie Lane explicates that since it was cheaper to prepare and consume the main meal in natural light, the fashionable people would prefer dining late—6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., or even later—by candlelight. Food has also been used as a symbol of social status to fictional represent French life. For instance Lilian Furst expresses Emma's wedding feast of „Madame Bovary‟ as a normal country wedding with an elegant banquet and a vulgar spread; where the menu and presentation signifies the refinement and elegance that Emma longed for, in contrast to the life that she was actually living. Food has also been used as an environmental factor, to describe the area around as a land of poor soil and inferior cheeses and viceversa. Food has also been associated with both love and sex, and in English, French, and American novels, the denial of love and the repression of sexuality manifest themselves in a variety of eating disorders. In Dickens's „Oliver Twist‟, food and sexuality are associated in a way that relates to the acquirement of identity, which is common to several narrative threads of the novel. A primarily feminine affliction, self-starvation, i.e anorexia nervosa, is widespread among the female characters of nineteenth-century fiction as women's repressed rage is turned inward and results in self-destruction. Dickens love for feasts is a proof of sociability and gusto and as ceremonies of love and not a celebration of glutton or the gourmet. Abandonment of esoteric concerns for the demonstration of real life led to the inclusion of concrete descriptions of everyday events, including the details of food preparation, dining rituals, table manners, and even digestive disorders. Until the late twentieth century critics often ignored these literary devices whereas at the same time the cultural studies scholars focused their attention on food and foodways. 5
  6. 6. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature Scholars associated with twentieth-century vegetarian theory have also dug out the texts of the nineteenth century, tapping into Romantic vegetarianism as practiced by Mary Shelley and others. Carol J. Adams discusses Shelley's man-made creature in Frankenstein, who sets himself apart from humans in general and his creator specifically by refusing to eat meat. Not surprisingly the preparation and serving of food is linked to women within patriarchal cultures. But the connection is often more subtle than a simple assignment to women of the role of cook and provider of sustenance to men and children. In George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë‟s novels, the instances of such stereotypical “women's work” along with food and the proper preparation of various dishes are abundant. A serving of food as a device for illuminating the structure of the societies they specifically portray. The obligation for food preparation could be empowering for women—not only in terms of supervising a large portion of the household budget, but also as a way of dispensing love and fellowship along with food. (Source: 20/04/2009 at 6:57pm) Miscellaneous Writings Besides the above mentioned literary works there are certain works of fiction and cookbooks which throw light on cooking and literature. A few examples are stated below: 1. Tea with Jane Austen In this book, Kim Wilson offers a synopsis of the history and culture of tea, with selected text and discussions related to Jane Austen's works. Reading this book one could also discover the rituals of tea. 2. Cather's Kitchens: Food-ways in Literature and Life Roger and Linda Welsch collected recipes from the Willa Cather's family recipe files, from period cookbooks, and from ethnic recipe collections. In this book one can find the molasses beer, corn soup, biscuits, and other recipes and can get a taste of those novels like "My Antonia”. 3. A Feast of Words: For Lovers of Food and Fiction Anna Shapiro pairs 25 selections from novels and short stories with recipes for Orange Bread, Apple and Cheese Bread, and Sesame Loaf, crunchy roast potatoes, the best 6
  7. 7. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature chocolate mousse, and cafe con leche. Read from Jane Austen's "Emma," from Doris Lessing's "A Good Neighbour," and Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." (source: 19/04/2009 at 1:18pm) 4. The Mistress of Spices -- by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Divakaruni‟s prose is so pungent that it stains the page, yet beneath the sighs and smells of this brand of magic realism she deftly introduces her true theme: how an ability to accommodate desire enlivens not only the individual heart but a society cornered by change. 5. Like Water for Chocolate --A Novel in Monthly Instalments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies by Laura Esquivel and translated by Carol and Thomas Christensen. “A tall-tale, fairy-tale, soap-opera romance, Mexican cookbook and home-remedy handbook all rolled into one, Like Water For Chocolate is one tasty entree from first-time novelist Laura Esquivel.” —San Francisco Chronicle 6. The Language of Baklava --by Diana Abu-Jaber “Incredibly powerful. . . . The world described is so strange and sumptuous, the characters so large and comedic, and the descriptions of the food so enveloping and mouth-watering that you want to climb into this world and make it your own.” —The Oregonian 7. Under the Tuscan Sun --At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes Frances Mayes entered a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In Under the Tuscan Sun, she brings the lyrical voice of a poet, the eye of a seasoned traveller, and the discerning palate of a cook and food writer to invite readers to explore the pleasures of Italian life and to feast at her table. (Source: 20/04/2009 at 5:19pm) 7
  8. 8. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature Critique and Conclusion In lame words one can say that it is due to the tummy and its desire for food that gives rise to feasts and festivals. The need for such feasts maybe to celebrate the human feelings of triumph over the world, in which food represents the entire process through cultivation to preparation. In accordance with Glants and Toomre‟s thought, food easily has the potential to become a metaphor in the national customs and thereby can set off a different reaction depending on its national tradition. This is so because one can draw numerous similarities between the importance of both food and literature as vehicles of cultural and social evolution. In short both literature and food are means to preserve as well as transform social and cultural traditions. To name some, writers such as James Joyce, Kazuo Ishiguro, Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushie, W.G. Sebald, E.M. Forster and Pat Barker are all interested in the „food travel‟ and the social occasions that it can possibly creates. One must taste the flavours of books and literature and ponder over the fact that how the makers of those products begin to adapt their creativity to the new conditions of globalization. (Source: 19/04/2009 at 3:00am) I‟d like to end with a quote by Marie-Antoine Careme“According to Careme -When we no longer have good cooking in the world, we will have no literature, nor high and sharp intelligence, nor friendly gatherings, no social harmony.” 8
  9. 9. Global Food Perspective Food And Literature Bibliography aspx s/San_Nicolas_thumb.jpg&imgrefurl= wfWoAbyOMVSegAh22vQHiRzRyRI=&h=232&w=180&sz=28&hl=en&start=32& um=1&tbnid=tn9T9ngBeIXkDM:&tbnh=109&tbnw=85&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dfo*: IE-SearchBox%26rlz%3D1I7ACAW%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20%26um%3D1 d+%2B+literature%2Bemotions&source=bl&ots=m7RumQIwRN&sig=CjYIk99H5H _501aLHLY7ug7hlpI&hl=en&ei=oeXdSa_COpiI6wP1rLi_Cw&sa=X&oi=book_res ult&ct=result&resnum=9 6soul1.jpg&imgrefurl= 1I=&h=374&w=498&sz=23&hl=en&start=1&tbnid=vClE6LOVjvbEoM:&tbnh=98 &tbnw=130&pr pic=112824 9