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Ripe FruitF: Food

I once read an historical romance wherein there was a medieval banquet. It was a helluva feast, too, and each and every dish on the tables was minutely detailed in the book. I felt like I was reading someone’s grocery list, which was pretty dull. A little color would be great, but how much detail is necessary, and what is just plain filler?

I like food in books. I like to write some into my books. Ace-High Flush includes a scene where Ace gets to eat his first real NY kosher bagel. I didn’t lovingly describe the thickness of the cream cheese, or the color of the lox. I think we all can imagine cream cheese and smoked salmon without a reminder of what they are like. But the food was there. Unless you’re writing a cookbook or, like Jeffrey Steingarten (The Man Who Ate Everything), are writing a food adventure or criticism, there’s no need to describe every dish on the table right down to the salt and pepper. I might say that they’re “eating Chinese food,” or “munched on sugary cereal,” but I’m unlikely to say they ate chateaubriand, medium rare, with béarnaise sauce and asparagus tips wrapped in a colorful red bell pepper ribbon, unless I’m trying to make a point that it was surprising to the character and that every detail was a new revelation. There has to be a point, otherwise, “fancy steak dinner” ought to be enough and the plot should be moving along without getting into the victuals.

That’s my take on food in fiction. How do you experience fictional food? Is it filler for you, or is it your awesome-sauce?

For your hopping convenience:

8 Comments

  1. Food works well in stories so it is awesome sauce!

  2. I think it depends on the story. If it fits the characters and the situation I like food details. But if its seems like its just something to add to the word count I might skim through it.

  3. I am always interested in food in historicals because they ate such interesting things (depending on when the book is set). In medieval they ate a lot of game, but also things like peacocks and pigeons. In the 18th century they ate a type of salad called salmagundi (love that word). But when I’m writing, although I’ll mention the food, I don’t go into much detail unless there’s a good reason to. Great post, Trish!

  4. I like descriptions of food sometime. I loved the part in your Romantek where deli food and bagels are found and savored because it was not available In the 22 century unless you were rich. When the scene called for a picnic I like to know what’s in the basket. In the movie Tom Jones, the meal was very erotic and sensual and the food was a major part in that scene.

  5. I hadn’t really thought about this but now that you mention it, although I love food in r/l I’m not too concerned about it in novels. I think that if people are eating a meal and it seems appropriate you should mention what they are eating, but every little detail is probably annoying.

    Sometimes w/historicals I feel like the author wants to show off all the research they did and though I applaud their efforts, it doesn’t always add to the story.

  6. I mentioned food in one book — burritos! Frozen chimichangas, to be exact. YES. Probably because I don’t cook unless you count ripping open a bag of tortilla chips and throwing a handful of pre-shredded cheese on it and nuking it for 30 seconds. Voila! Nachos de Sheri. Happy to share my gourmet Mexican food recipes anytime. Aheh.

  7. I like reading brief descriptions of food, unless it is something new or a really big deal to a scene. like the bread in your Romantek story. Since 22 century people don’t often get to experience bread, it is so cool to read about her senses and the newness.
    I love those kind of scenes.
    BTW, I am reading (and loving!) Eddie right now!
    🙂

  8. Food is awesome sauce. LOL. I went pretty descriptive on the food in one of my scenes, But it was to make a point SO I don’t know I’m a serious foodie though, so we will see what happens. So far no food in my WIP

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