Food. It’s something we need to survive. It can be a rustic fair or a fancy creation, but regardless we all need to eat. Food does more than that, though, it can bring a family around a dinner table or open the eyes of an outsider. It can hint at how wealthy an establishment is. It can also showcase what’s in season in that area and what’s valued in that culture. Food can do so much. So why does it sometimes get passed over in our writings? Why do these little details so often get overlooked?
For example, I’m a freelance editor and as such I have the lovely opportunity to work with some amazing writers. One such writer kept mentioning food but wasn’t specific to what the food actually was. I pointed it out, and they replied saying I was “too obsessed” with food. But really, those little details were actually important. The story was set in Japan and food is a huge part of their culture (of any culture, I’d wager) and vastly different than our own. (For example: In Japan it’s common to have cooked rice with a cracked egg overtop for breakfast.) Instead of saying “XX had breakfast” and move on, adding in that small detail would ground the reader in this setting and in this culture. It was an interesting back-and-forth, and eventually the writer understood where I was coming from and added those details in. I believe the setting is stronger because of that.
And I’m here to implore all writers to include this sensory activity in their stories. After all, food is important, regardless of race. (Unless…you have a race that doesn’t eat, but that opens up a whole new set of experiences!) Now, that’s not to say every page has to have some kind of food on it. Don’t overboard the reader with an onslaught of meals, as that would probably get boring. But don’t forget them either.
Like I said before, food can help build the setting and tone of your story. A meal in a post-apocalyptic world would be vastly different than a meal set on a spaceship or a meal in historic Japan. A sit-down meal surrounded by family sets a different tone than a quick meal on the run or a hearty meal in a pub.
Food can help solidify the reader in a character’s POV. Is the soup too spicy? Is the bread too soft or salty or filled with nuts they don’t like? Does the juice from that purply-green fruit drip down their chin? Burst over their tongue? Scorch their throat going down?
Food can also help shape your characters. Do they miss certain foods from back home? Do they like certain spices or sweets? Do they even know what meats or vegetables are in the soup they’re currently enjoying?
These things may seem tiny among the “bigger details” like the plotline and the character arcs and the overall setting, but these little descriptions ground the readers in your world and your character. These little descriptions make the place seem real.
What do you think? Add a comment below!
Hope you have a lovely 4th of July weekend!
Until next time!