Allan J. Emerson

Allan Emerson's Blog

When fictional characters eat...

June 23, 2015

Sooner or later, even in the most fast-paced thriller, the characters have to stop and eat. Sometimes itís a gourmet meal described in loving detail, other times itís packaged convenience store stuff. I often think you can tell how much the writer enjoys food or cooking by the way the details are handled in these scenes.

Eating scenes donít feature much in my mystery, Death of a Bride and Groom. My divorced sleuth is addicted to doughnuts, although he doesnít realize that heís substituting them for something else he misses. It isnít until he meets his gorgeous new girlfriend that he loses interest in the deep-fried treats. She doesnít cook, so he makes breakfast for her, although itís pretty standard: bacon and eggs.

In Stieg Larssonís The Girl Who Kicked the Hornetsí Nest, people donít eat much better: mainly sandwiches and coffee. At least those sound more appetizing than Jane Eyreís burnt porridge, or Oliver Twistís gruel. Of course, for truly shocking fare, Shakespeare was the master. In Timon of Athens, Timon offers his false friends a dinner of stones in boiling water. It gets worse--in Titus Andronicus, Titus revenges himself on a perfidious queen by serving her sons up to her in a pie. (It's probably best to bring your own food if you're invited to a get-together in one of Shakespeare's plays.)

For more elevated dining, Ian Flemingís James Bond was always discriminating in the food and drink line. We all know how particular he was about his martinis, and in Casino Royale he impresses a snooty headwaiter with his discerning choice of tournedos (small pieces of beef tenderloin) with sauce Bťarnaise and artichoke hearts.

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville waxed ecstatic about clam chowder for most of a chapter. Hereís a small sample:

ďOh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage Ö and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expeditionĒ

Iím a little doubtful about the ďpounded ship biscuit,Ē but maybe it tasted better than it sounds. At any rate, thereís no doubt the characters enjoyed the chowder; later on, they order it for breakfast the next morning.

Excuse me for a minute, Iím just going to go get myself a little soup...and perhaps a doughnut or two. And didnít I see some fresh raspberries in the fridge? Maybe a dollop of lime sherbet Ö.

What kind of meals do you remember from your favorite books? If youíre a writer, what meals have you treated your characters to?

I show up here every Tuesday and I hope you will too. And please hit the Comment button and let me know what you think about the topic of the day.


  1. June 24, 2015 10:23 AM PDT
    I often find myself giving my characters a food I'm hungry for. My critique group is always making me take out food references -- apparently I overdo it when I'm having a craving. :D
    - Patricia Stoltey
  2. June 24, 2015 11:16 AM PDT

    Maybe there's a money-making diet plan in your method, Pat--make the food you're writing about a substitute for actually having it. Wouldn't work for me, though--I'm apt to wander out to the fridge when I'm describing food. (It's research, right?)

    - ---------------------------------

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