Food—even more than fashion—can be a shortcut that helps create realistic characters. And sharing a meal is a natural setting for characters to reveal personal information, back-stories, flaws and more.
My current novel-in-progress features a few meals. It’s not a Donna Leon-style foodie love-fest, but the characters get to know one another while eating and discuss important issues over meals. The protagonist’s first meal with her romantic interest is pizza. He’s pleased that she is not a vegan, gluten-free or even a picky eater. Food also crops up in the story as a way to examine and divide people. A caterer complains about the boring and old-fashioned taste of his wealthy clients. An art connoisseur reveals that he’s a food snob, refusing the muffins in the museum’s cafeteria that the other characters enjoy. And love is demonstrated with chocolate—of course.
Being conscious of what my characters eat, or don’t eat, has ramped up the attention I pay to what my friends eat. I know a few bread and butter lovers. They tear into the breadbasket and slather on butter, while I’m trying to limit my white flour consumption. Sometimes I just have to join in.
I’ve observed that sharing a dessert is a wonderful bonding experience and the decision-making process that arrives at an apple crumble with ice cream or a lemon mousse can be revelatory. Who concedes, who controls and perhaps demures—until the spoons come out—all tell mini stories.
In the story, a young middle-class woman encounters sophisticated, world traveling people with much more money than her family has ever seen. Food, or more to the point, experience with food, serves as a demarcation between classes and groups of people. Invitations to dine are bridges between groups while working for the caterer at a fancy party clearly marks the have/have not division.
In some parts of the story, what she ate reveals who she is or who she is becoming.
Do you have any thoughts on food as a storytelling tool?