1. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yummy food old-fashioned?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by madhoca, May 4, 2010.

    I hope I won't get into trouble for posting this here, but I thought it came under 'describing' and 'general writing that appeals to the senses'!

    I was taking a break today and was reading an old novel where a meal is described. Then I remembered how many of my favourite books when I was a child (like the 'Swallows and Amazons' books by Arthur Ransome) had food described which I really loved reading about. I mean, it was absolutely mouth-watering! Sometimes the whole picnic--crusty bread with marmalade, ice cold ginger beer etc--was described, for up to half a page. Maybe it was so appealing because I was at boarding school :(

    I wondered if this type of writing has gone out of fashion a bit, since I don't seem to find food described so well any more?
    Or is it that people just don't cook, so they don't think so much about food (until they get hungry)?
    Do you like having food described, or do you think it's a waste of time (not advancing the plot, and all that)?
    Would it be a mistake to include the odd description of food here and there?
     
  2. Lydia
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    Lydia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I absolutely LOVE food discription! :D You can't do any wrong with that to me... Though it is true, you don't see it very often anymore.

    But I like it, and don't really think it's a waste of time and space. :)
     
  3. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, this thread certainly provides food for thought... ;)
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most mystery writers I've read still tend to describe foods, more so than in other genres.
     
  5. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I recently read a book that really irritated me with the amount of food description in it. Nobody could meet up without having a meal, described in great detail, and usually including boiled eggs, ham and sugary deserts. Then I realised that it was published in the UK during the second world war, when those things were rationed and hard to obtain even if you did have the coupons. Effectively all those descriptions of meals were food porn!

    That doesn't account for inter-war writing though, so I think that food description has declined. So has most other sorts of description, though -- there's another thread hereabouts where people will tell you in no uncertain terms that description should only be there to advance the storyline -- which I suspect food description rarely does.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hm.

    Curious.

    I had not realized that the description of food within the narrative of a work was a dynamic particular to certain genres of writing. Being a Science Fiction boy myself, if I really put my mind to it, I guess the only time I can think of food being described is because the food in question is of an alien variety and thus its scandalous/gross/bizarre/improbable nature is of interest.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A couple examples:

    Robert B. Parker's Spenser is a gourmet cook, and so is Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta's specialty is classic Italian cuisine.

    Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone favors junk food, especially McDonald's Quarter Pounders, but the dive down the street is run by a Hungarian woman who concocts some - interesting meals. Occasionally Millhone experiences (and shares) higher quality meals, which she enthusiastically describes.

    Linda Barnes' Carlotta Carlile is very active physically, and when she has time to spend on a meal, she really enjoys it. I've been to some of the Boston area restaurants described, and have enjoyed the very same specialty dishes.

    It's part of the atmosphere of these books. They give you another window into the character, but also into the setting. And in mystery novels, the setting is practically a character in its own right.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    nero wolfe was a gourmand and his creator, the appropriately-named rex stout, loved sharing his character's lavish repasts with readers who didn't have an in-house chef...

    and the sadly departed lawrence sanders had a great time describing his capt. delaney's 'wet sandwiches' among other gustatory delights he'd sprinkle his books with, to tempt the palate of his readers...

    i'm not sure it's a good idea to cause your readers to have to stop reading long enough to assemble a snack [or a 7-course meal], but it didn't seem to hurt the books sales of these talented writers... in fact, i'm getting hungry just writing about it all and must stop posting long enough to fix myself a more special than usual breakfast!

    see y'all later... m
     
  9. SilverRam
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    SilverRam Member

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    There was a lot of food description in The Yearling. I'm not sure whether it was because of the time it was written in or if it was to emphasize how important food was in their life so the reader could understand how serious the main conflict was.
     
  10. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know in the Harry Potter series there are several scenes through out each book(not sure the last one) that goes into detail about the foods.

    Also in Eldest or Brisnger they go into detail about the feasts and other smaller meals. Of course I think this was to show his change from omnivore to strict vegetarian, and then back to somewhat willing to eat meat.
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Food and eating are hugely important themes in children's literature, probably more so than any other genre.
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's interesting what digitig mentioned about the wartime novel with an orgy of food description; when I think about this, it makes sense, specially with British novels.
    What you say about children's fiction also makes sens, arron. Well, I certainly loved reading about food when I was a child! Perhaps it's because certain other sensory description is inappropriate for younger age groups?
    As a historian, it's really interesting to see what was a treat for people, too, although this is a sideline. My mother was deprived of sweets, being a war child, and she still gives my children chocolate as a special treat, as if it's something difficult to come by that they can't have often!
     
  13. Mila
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    Mila Member

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    I like food description :) I allow a bit in my own writing but I don't overdo it. I think it's a part of everyday life that can make up the setting of a scene. I wouldn't want to read pages of it though.....although there is a handy shop just round the corner.....hehehe
     

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