I’m not concerned with ordinary horrible food, or even the extraordinarily horrible mush that passed for India Vegetable Curry with Rice and Continental Breakfast on the United Airlines flight I took to Amsterdam. Both meals were awful (I picked at dinner and ate the grapes from the fruit salad at breakfast) but all they inspired was a ravenous search for breakfast at the train station — not true HORROR!
There are plenty of great examples of scary food in folk tales, mythology and genre literature: the witch’s gingerbread house in the woods draws children to her oven, countless hypnotists convincing the gullible that a plate of worms is pasta (and similar scenarios), Alice follows the mysterious instructions to EAT or DRINK with startling consequences, and so many more.
I believe the scariest is unintentional cannibalism. This comes up in contemporary horror, but it’s nothing new. In classical Greek mythology, the brothers Atreus and Thyestes vied for the same throne. Atreus had the Golden Fleece so he became the ruler, but Thyestes seduced his brother’s wife, stole the Fleece and took the throne for himself — temporarily.
Atreus retaliated and regained both throne and the Golden Fleece, sending Thyestes away for years. Eventually he invited his brother, and nephews, back offering some kind of reconciliation in the form of a dinner. Curiously, Thyestes sons weren’t present for the meal and when he asked Atreus, he was told to lift the lid off a platter revealing his sons’ heads!
Atreus’ revenge took years to exact and caused true pain and horror — with really horrible food.