Why food is more important than sex

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MLLongworth
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Why food is more important than sex

Post by MLLongworth » June 21st, 2011, 5:38 am

It always surprises me how seldom fiction writers will write about food. We eat two or three times a day; making lists and shopping (or eating out) takes up another chunk of our workday. So why does sex get all the attention? (Freud would have something to say...).

Do you describe in detail what your characters are eating? How can food and dining help set a scene? (I'll go to a restaurant sometimes with my notebook; dinner party conversations are another great source for ideas and dialogue).

And what are your favorite food passages in novels? No food is too humble; proof is Hemingway's description of a cold beer and potato salad in A Moveable Feast:

"It was a quick walk to Lipp's and every place I passed that my stomach noticed as quickly as my eyes or nose made the walk an added pleasure. There were few people in the brasserie and I sat down on the bench against the wall with the mirror in back and a table in front and the waiter asked if I wanted beer and I asked for a distingué, the big glass mug that held a litre, and for potato salad.
The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes à l'huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draught of beer I drank and ate very slowly..."

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1961.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this, or even passages you have written about food.

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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by Collectonian » June 21st, 2011, 10:45 am

I've written about food in several of my WIPs. In The Strength and the Light, the main character's favorite comfort food is jello cups, which is noted in one scene, and there is another where several characters sit down to an elaborate meal with their favorite dishes. In Aisuru, To Love, I have several places where I describe the food preparation and results with some detail, and the characters discuss food several times. I even have one chapter that has what I hope is a humerous episode where two demons attempt to cook for their sick human host :-P

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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by polymath » June 21st, 2011, 10:49 am

If food is a dramatic complication, I believe it's worthy fodder for creative writing. When it's not, it's not. The three primal needs of existence: subsistence, security, and society; subsistence, complications acquiring food, of course, and water and breathable air; security, complications seeking sanctuary from the complications of existence; and society, sex and other social activities social beings engage in, the least of which comes with dramatic complications.

Too many food scenes I've read don't incite or build complications or finalize complication outcomes. A mammoth hunt for dinner, now that's a complication. Not much complication in and of itself when going to a neighborhood café with money in the pocket and a hunger and a thirst to match the fare and having every need and whim catered to almost without a second thought.
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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by maybegenius » June 21st, 2011, 1:43 pm

Food and eating can definitely add texture to a scene and more fully immerse the reader. It can also operate as a metaphor or incite certain feelings in the reader. I remember reading somewhere that J.K. Rowling in particular made it a point to describe many of the meals the characters take part in. I think she used food beautifully - to pull the reader further into the wizarding world (with wizarding cultural foods like butterbeer), to illustrate the difference of circumstance (rich meals when Harry's at Hogwarts, scant meals when he's at the Dursley's or on the run), or to illicit feelings of comfort and home (Mrs. Wesley always prepares Harry something homey and delicious).

I think, as with anything in writing, you should have a reason for including food (just like you should have a reason for including sex). Having a meal just to show that your character does, in fact, eat food isn't going to have significant impact on the narrative and may actually disrupt the flow of the story. Describing food to increase reader immersion or evoke a certain atmosphere, on the other hand, can be wonderful if it's done well.
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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by sierramcconnell » June 21st, 2011, 4:27 pm

Actually, I think I write about eating too much, and my dietician that I went to for an eating disorder a couple years back said it was because I was obsessing about food. So if you write about it, it's because you're thinking about it, ie - you're hungry, go eat.
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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by JohnDurvin » June 22nd, 2011, 10:59 am

I agree that food, if described, needs to be there either as relative to the plot or as a world-building detail. The problem is, really, the same *should* go for sex, it just doesn't. Sex gets thrown into books, movies, TV, music, and everything else, because (A) it sells, and (B) people think about it a lot. I don't know about the rest of you, but I know several people whose entire lives are devoted to figuring out ways to have sex with the most attractive people possible--they work so they can pay to be in bars, they eat so they'll have the energy, they learn skills and jokes for the sole purpose of "getting chicks". I know a few foodies too, but even they are not about food with anything like the same intensity.
Also, sex is a great way for a work of fiction (or non-fiction) to get attention. People are just more likely to pay attention to something sexy; besides the conscious parts of it, I bet there's a subconscious feeling of "me likee!" as the sex-hormones get to churning in the background.
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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by Chantelle.S. » June 22nd, 2011, 3:30 pm

Oh, gosh darn it. I have the perfect example of a book where food is constantly mentioned in great (juicy) detail, but I can't remember the name of it or the author. The basic plot revolves around a chef who takes a street-kid into his home and trains him to become his apprentice, all because the boy stole a promegranate to eat. It's amazing how graphic the author can get about food. I could almost taste that promegranate the way he described it. And I wanted one after reading it, too.
But considering the setting of the book was to mostly play off in a large kitchen, the mention of food didn't become redundant.

In my own novels, on the other hand, I've edited a lot of scenes where one of my main characters is always eating. It's either pizza, or McD's, or icecream - I swear the guy is a parana in disguise. The setting for my one novel basically only moves from the beach, to the diner on the beach, to the local high school, to the manor, to the mall. All of which are good places to feature food (corndogs on the beach/cafeteria grub at the school/coffee and cake at the mall/feasts made for kings at the manor/MILKSHAKES at the diner) but I only really focus on the food in greater detail when my character-at-word does. Otherwise it's just a vague point I bring up when it suits - I don't dwell on it so I don't think the reader will either. If it doesn't serve a purpose, e.g. it doesn't move the story along, then it needs to be cut out.

I'll use an example of where food could/SHOULD have been left out: in one of the Twilight saga books, Bella spends at least three or four pages on removing the noodles/pasta from the stove and reflecting on how bad her dad is at cooking. What was the point of it? *headwall* There was no point. Twilight is littered with idle scenes like that, but that aside, food should, as all other things, move the plot along instead of being a spanner in the works.
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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by sierramcconnell » June 22nd, 2011, 3:39 pm

I think the only time food moves my plot along is when Edward (God, no, not named after that one :lol: ) von Giovanni is entertaining his soon to be breakfast and when I'm describing human food. As in, actual people being eaten.

Yum. :o

Oh, and Tissy's insatiable love for rocks and shells.

We're not normal eaters over here.
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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by mudpuppy » June 25th, 2011, 3:41 pm

sierramcconnell wrote:I think the only time food moves my plot along is when Edward (God, no, not named after that one :lol: ) von Giovanni is entertaining his soon to be breakfast and when I'm describing human food. As in, actual people being eaten.

Yum. :o

Oh, and Tissy's insatiable love for rocks and shells.

We're not normal eaters over here.
I have a character that loves dairy, a bit too much. Granted she's not human and the only food she eats is seafood. Also, her name is Bella (but I'm thinking about changing it during the revisions). Every scene that's about Bella talks about her love of dairy to the point where she seems gluttonous.

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Re: Why food is more important than sex

Post by cheekychook » June 26th, 2011, 11:36 am

I actually replied to this post the other day, but due to some computer glitch the whole post disappeared when I tried to post it. I haven't had the time or energy to retype, but I'll take a crack at it today, though I'm pretty sure all my brilliant comments came out the other day in the lost post, so sadly all you'll be left with is today's lesser thoughts. Sorry.

I don't think either food or sex is "more important" in a book, but I do think in many types of stories both have their place and can be valuable ways of portraying characters, showing their interaction, adding richness to scenes, etc.

I wouldn't describe the function of eating a meal or having sex in a boring methodical manner, just for the sake of telling the reader it happened, but then I wouldn't describe characters brushing their teeth, walking to the bus stop or cleaning their toilets in a boring methodical manner either.

Whether you like to write about food and/or sex or not, food and sex are opportunities to convey strong sensory images and often resulting emotions. Food (with its scents, taste, texture) is well known to evoke powerful memories (that coffee smells like my grandmother's kitchen, those cookies taste like the ones my mom made when I was a kid). The manner in which a character approaches food (diving into a meal with gusto vs picking at a plate of food) can express personality or mood at the moment. The spiciness of a bite of wasabi crusted salmon tingling through your character's nose or the sensual luxury of chocolate melting on your character's tongue can bring your reader into your character's experience in a personal, experiential way. Whether your characters are cooking food, eating food, serving each other food, shopping for food, or ordering food in a restaurant the description can get across a lot more than merely what food is present. Don't believe me? Go to a restaurant or even an ice cream shop and just watch a bunch of people eat---notice the differences in how they outwardly experience their food. Imagine what the experience is like for them on a personal level. Close your eyes when you're eating something and think about the experience in terms of sensations.

I've already posted dozens of times of the importance of sex, at least in my own writing. I write women's fiction with strong romantic elements and high levels of sensual content. I've never written any fictional piece that doesn't include detailed description of both food and sex. My writing is about people, their relationships, their desires, their emotions, and how they relate to others. I personally can't explore those things fully, with my adult characters, without having their thoughts and experiences with both food and sex woven into the story. It would be leaving out two important aspects of the characters' lives. That doesn't mean food or sex have their place in every work of fiction. There are lots of genres where neither is necessary (some where it's not even appropriate), but for true-to-life, relationship-driven fiction with romantic elements, I think it's essential. And my readers certainly seem to enjoy it. :D
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