1. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Member

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    Food in your story's setting

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by BlitzGirl, Jun 14, 2018 at 9:13 PM.

    This is something I've wondered about, and thought it would make an interesting conversation. I know that there are many ways of going about this in fiction. Some published works only make fleeting mentions of what the food is like in the story's world; others, such as the Song of Ice and Fire series, detail it heavily as a way to show the reader something about the setting and characters.

    For me, I make very simple descriptions since my stories take place in made-up worlds, and describing the food at least a little bit gives the reader a feel for the culture. All that I know about my current story is that rice is an important crop that makes up the bulk of the country's food, and fruit and spices are more common further to the east. Tea is the most common drink and also a profitable crop. Cheese and nuts pop up commonly in snacks/appetizers. But that's all I have been able to create so far. Since my main character lives a rather pampered life as a priestess (and started off part of a poor, rural family), it made sense to try to describe these things to show how different classes in this world ate.

    But I am curious about how the rest of you go about it. Does it matter much in the stories you are working on, or ones you have finished? If you do describe the cuisine of a fictional setting, how do you go about creating it?
     
  2. izzybot

    izzybot A Menace Contributor

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    It varies for me. I'm definitely not in the 'food porn' category of lavish descriptions, but I do love me some worldbuilding, and cuisine can be a really interesting aspect of that.

    In my sci-fi universe, I've put a lot of thought into the ecosystem and varying cultures of my 'pet planet' (the one I've spent the most time developing). The area where the main characters are from is a desert inhabited primarily by megafaunal arthropods, so these are people who're used to eating 'bugs' for their primary protein. They also eat fungi that they cultivate underground, and occasionally, they get hold of some fish that live in the aquifers they get their water from. They're unable to export much to lusher parts of the continent and get nice imports in exchange, so they're a lean, poor people, and if someone is well-fed it probably means they're an outsider who's likely to be somewhat shunned.

    Meanwhile, out in space, there's another low-income group of characters who are able to subsist on what amounts to MREs and spacefuture fast food. It keeps you alive, but it's not the tastiest or healthiest, and for them being able to get good food is a luxury, not something to be resented. They're more likely to be a bit plumper, and assuaging the stress of living paycheck to paycheck with cheap booze is pretty commonplace.

    I absolutely live for the culture clash of throwing these two groups of people at each other, and while food is only a small portion of what differentiates them, it's a pretty fundamental one. This kid* who comes from the desert is completely repulsed by the flavor palate of the fatty, salty, sweet foods the space kids eat, and the space kids are completely horrified by the desert kid willingly eating bugs and weird fungi.

    * Not actual kids, but y'know.

    There's also an alien race of apex predators I designed for whom complicated and elegant cuisine is an integral part of their society as an art form. I traced it back to the beginning of their development of agriculture, where food was the most important thing for them, and mates were often selected based on who could provide the best/most meat. It's still considered a desirable trait in interpersonal relationships. I haven't gotten into exactly what they eat, yet, but I know it's a cornerstone of their culture, and that's an interesting thing to consider, I think.
     
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  3. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Member

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    That sounds fascinating! It's that kind of in-depth world-building that I love. I'm just not very imaginative when it comes to creating food for a fictional world.

    I had a scene where the MC was dining with the king and queen of this fictional country, and I was struggling with trying to figure out what would set their food apart, and what ingredients would be used. Just so she can feel a bit overwhelmed and see how well the royals eat every day (while getting information from the king, of course).
     
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  4. izzybot

    izzybot A Menace Contributor

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    My favorite thing is when something is prized because it's rare, not necessarily because it's good. Gold, for instance, is kind of a garbage metal (barring conductivity) but it's been highly prized for ages. There's nothing inherently special about the colors purple or blue, but because the dyes needed to make them were in short supply back in the, they became associated with wealth. I remember reading that once we developed a more reliable, mass-produceable way to make blue dye, blue clothing and paint saturated the market and it quickly flipped from a color associated with prestige to one associated with cheapness. That sort of stuff is super interesting to me.

    So, say your royalty lives by the sea, so most of the common folk eat fish, because of course they do. But the royals want to be special, so they like to eat beef and cheese because those things are in shorter supply this far from the beef and dairy farms further inland. But, there are also tasty giant squid that live out in the ocean that're dangerous to hunt, so even though they're seafood, they're a staple of the royals' diet as well. Maybe they also wear a lot of black that's dyed with squid ink, and lower-class people color their clothes with charcoal to emulate it.

    Then there's fruit and veggies and grains and nuts to consider, as well as spices! Do they have sugar? Do they have teas? Do they have chocolate? I try to think of the climate first (what they can make themselves), and trade relations after that (what they can get from other places). I love that you can explore past and current culture, class differences, international relations, even ancient history all through the lens of food.
     
  5. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Member

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    Wow, those are all very complex thoughts you have there! I definitely was aware of the history behind blue and purple dyes; for example, Japanese royalty is signified by the color purple (and four-toed dragons). I really just want to go on and on about my own stuff, but not try to derail the good points you've brought to this conversation. I'll just say that gold definitely is super important in my world's culture, since gold is one of the colors that they associate with the phoenix, fire, and sun. So only priestesses, royalty, and their guards can wear the colors red and gold, since they are seen as closest to their god, the phoenix (and the guards get the colors from the importance of their duty, protecting the king, queen, and priestesses from harm).

    My story's country is, indeed, land-locked (it even has a desert on its eastern border), with the capital being in the east, so the idea of throwing some hard-to-get-by seafood into the royal's diet is a great idea when I think about it! But it has plenty of rivers and lakes to the west so the center of the country is its agricultural heartland. They can grow a lot of rice and tea leaves, whereas the warmer climate in the east would be beneficial for other crops, and would mean some things would be more common in one half than others. And since the capital city is a magnet for trade, they would naturally have a wider variety of food and other goods to choose from.

    Anyway, I apologize if I am rambling a bit about my stuff, but your posts are definitely inspiring me. I just am trash at trying to make up fake food dishes. :bigoops:
     
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  6. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I write contemporary romance and I'm a major foodie, so to no one's real surprise food makes its way into everything I write.

    Under the Knife - nearly every single character (including both MCs) is a chef. 'nuff said
    From Blood to Roses - one of my MCs is a hit man who enjoys cooking gourmet meals when he's not out killing people
    Kneadful Things - my MC Jin is a genie who works out of a dilapetated bakery, and he grants wishes by sending folks home with a magical baked good.
    Gravity - my MC Connor is a personal trainer and registered dietitian, and his services include making mouth-watering but healthy meals

    My next book (that I haven't started yet but hope to this summer) is a sequel to UTK so yeah...more food coming everyone's way. :bigtongue: Food is such a big part of my life that I don't think I'll ever get tired of including it in my stories.
     
  7. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand

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    My current MC, Kristol loves Roasted Rabbit. She knows how to crack the bones just right make a loud cracking noise and her family owns a rabbit farm, so she will hand pick her own rabbit for dinner and name it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2018 at 4:51 AM
  8. Spirit of seasons

    Spirit of seasons New Member

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    My heroine, Rose loves fish, she can't stand when other people eat gamey meats like elk and deer, or even bear. Winter up north is unforgiving for food sources, I need to think of other types of grain and nuts to include. I find describing food fun, but I try not to overdo it. (Foodporn)
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    UTK was a real 'treat' to read. Insight not only into food itself, but how creative cooks use their imaginations to come up with dishes nobody else has ever quite done before (under pressure as well, which isn't always the case, thank goodness.) I found it fascinating to read.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's a great angle. Scarcity increases monetary value and 'desirability.' Of course it does.
     
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  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Cause my ass is not smart enough...:P Contributor

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    You mean outside of Marckus having a 150 year old pack of gum. :p

    Most of the food represented in story is coffee/tea, cause ya know
    several hundred thousand giant Reptilian soldiers need to be wired
    all the time. :p
    Primarily the Centurian diet is quite similar to humans, they have
    bread, fruits/veg, meats, and other things. Though they are not big
    on sweets, preferring fruit. They issue protein bars made with their
    own grown nuts and dried fruits.
    Alcohol is also something that is a kinda staple for any such army,
    because the off chance a bar fight breaks out, they can really make
    a mess of the on board cantina. :p No they are pretty good about not
    beating the hell out of each other.:p A popular drink amongst the
    scaly troopers is Ptaima Pomei Rux (Blood Fruit Ale 15% by vol.),
    and is bitter sweet. And a green drink similar to whiskey, but a bit
    more potent called Tocsinia. And last but not least, a fruity purple
    cocktail that is never really defined beyond that point. :p
    So they keep a very well stocked liquor cabinet too. :D

    The small look into the Uldivarion diet is much less diverse, and
    in Marckus' opinion makes MREs seem like fine dining in comparison.:p
    Uldivarions eat a type of fungus, and a few large insects. While the bugs
    are cooked, the Uldivarion pallet is bland at best, so flavor and spices
    are not really a thing for them. They do not however keep a stock of
    booze onboard any of their war-ships, though it is quite the spectacle
    to see a really prim and proper soldier get drunk. They have quite the
    odd sense of humor and blush a lighter hue blue from their much darker
    skin tone. :p

    Within such massive ships they have integrated farms to sustain their vast
    numbers of men, and plenty of rations in reserve. A somewhat luxury afforded
    to much larger class ships, that are expected to be self sustaining since they are
    designed for both space war-fare and ground wars (either small conflicts, or
    all out wars of attrition). In the very least be able to survive long enough for
    reinforcement to show up. :p
    Water is largely recycled, and harvested from other solar bodies and purified.
    Also cigarettes are stocked, but not many partake in the activity of smoking.
     
  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Cause my ass is not smart enough...:P Contributor

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    This gave me a thought that he could cook for one of his potential hits. :p
    Would be an interesting dynamic.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    There are a lot of food scenes in the HFN. Food is incredibly important as a link between the two co-protagonists. Actually, thinking through Female Protagonist's relationships, it's important in pretty much all of them.

    I do think I have too much fresh food for a pre-refrigeration society; I need to bump up the representation of dried, smoked, cured, pickled, and otherwise preserved food.
     
  14. S A Lee

    S A Lee Senior Member

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    I think describing food should either emphasise that this isn't normal for or very important to the character that this part of the plot focuses on, or, in the case of non-human characters, it helps describe taste relative to them.
     
  15. Night Herald

    Night Herald Senior Member

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    This is something I haven't given a whole lot of thought in any of my settings.

    For my Fantasy Comedy in Space! most food is standard, contemporary Western fare, described in passing. There's the exception of Kraken being a delicacy. There's also an alternate dimension and/or alien planet where all the food is absurd and downright threatening. I could probably have been more creative, on the whole, but I think it's serviceable for this kind of lightweight story.

    My other Fantasy setting is similar, but there it's more of a problem. I haven't differentiated the selection to a great enough extent, across borders of region, class, culture, and such. In this more serious, realistic work, I'm gonna have to try harder.

    In this manuscript, I've devoted more words to describing food, which isn't a great idea with the food being as bland as it is. The only remotely interesting items on the menu, from the top of my head, is a particular bark paste/porridge consumed in the North, and the infamous "Gutter Scouse" found in a slummy southern port. Unless drugs count as food, in which case I have plenty of variety.
     
  16. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    It's quite interesting how food can show things about a culture. I'm writing three books and a fanfiction story, and I think food is one of the things that highlights the differences in settings the most.

    One book, TBH, I don't describe food all that much. It's a school story set in 1911 Devon, so there won't be anything too remarkable about the food. Just the occasional mention of "Kitty scooped up a forkful of mash while she considered this" or similar.

    One of them is an urban fantasy set in a 1930s boarding school involving time travel. The heroine finds everything fascinating, so of course she'd describe the food, even if it's nothing too special - for example, she'd mention that it was steak and kidney pudding for lunch, and she describes her first breakfast at the school in detail, even though it's just porridge and bread and butter, because it's not what she was expecting. (I did have a bit of a dumb moment as I was talking about jam, as I was wondering which fruits might be available in January. Just when I realised I couldn't think of a single one, it occurred to me that jam was also called "preserves" for a reason. Well done me.)

    Food starts to get more interesting in my mystery story. It's set at the court of a fictional country in the 18th century, and the culture is very French. The French Bourbons were known for their excesses, but when they hold a feast to welcome French guests, the MC, a princess, reflects that it must be a somewhat smaller feast than they must have had at Versailles, as they're a poorer and less powerful country. As one of the things I wanted to do with the book was present a more realistic picture of royalty (in comparison with those "oh, why do I have to wear a corset, I'm going to run away and become a peasant" stories), I also thought it would be interesting to show her eating an ordinary meal in her apartments, where the food is a lot simpler - still luxurious, but not the fifteen dishes enjoyed at the feast.

    Also, one of the things I enjoy about my fanfiction story, which is for a high fantasy show, is further exploring the worldbuilding we saw in the show, and that includes the food. It's based on Asian culture, with each nation being based on a different country, so I'm having fun researching Asian food and altering the dishes to suit the world, for example, the meat needs to change as the animals are hybrids of animals in our world, or coming up with my own food. Also, as the characters on the show came from all walks of life and the story follows many of them, it's fun to show cultural and class differences between each group of characters. For example, the royal family of one country eats intricate meals made with rare meats, spices, sauces made from exotic fruits, etc., as well as a fancy dessert, after-dinner tea, maybe even a starter, things like that, whereas a lower-class family living on an island (with two working parents as well, therefore not so much time to prepare food) eats mostly rice and fish.
     
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  17. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not so thoughtful when it comes to food in my stories - I don't think so much about my world and how that affects the food. I think only of foooooood!!!! :D I love a good-looking dish and enjoy describing any and all meals in all their details. Usually I just paint a picture perfect meal, to be honest. Stuff like dishes of jam gleamed like jewels scattered between the bread baskets, and the like. Pheasant stuffed with garlic, juices pooling on being pierced. Caramel pudding just the right shade of honey wobbling on the plate, eaten by the spoonful.

    Honestly, I just love describing food. Not entirely sure why. I've also always enjoyed leafing through recipe books just admiring the pictures. I used to collect recipes but never make them, all because of the pictures.
     
  18. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand

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    How come?

    Same, I also love Food. I haven't tried to describing them beyond Roasted Rabbit with boiled potatoes

    Sounds cool, I only make simple dishes but I always make them look really nice. and make the plate look decorative with the food.



    I need to learn how to do this better.
     
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  19. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Because, despite being a fantasy writer, I'm actually not much into worldbuilding... I find it tedious, and I forget all the details anyway if it's not relevant to the story. Probably the single biggest criticism any reader's had of my stuff is, "There're plot holes with how your world works. Also, just which century is your tech based on?" :oops: It will just have to be stuff I'll flesh out in the editing stage.

    Simple is good - simple is delicious! Mine tend to be butter and bread, chicken and garlic, creamy soups, sweet fruits, dainty biscuits... You see, I can't stop. I actually can't. Given the chance I'd fill a whole chapter with just food!

    Usually I'm just imagining something I'd find delicious and then make it sound delicious :coffee: but then I'm quite into descriptive writing.
     
  20. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand

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    Gotcha, I understand. before I started working on my world. I wrote a book based in this world which hadn't been quite developed, everything, and I mean everything took a year. After developing my world and rewriting the story, it took about 11 years to accomplish everything. tough I did add a bit more with a Son, which wasn't in the original writing. So I get that. Also distances. I have drawn makes and have measurements based off of 1.5x (Earth) With your own world, century-Tech shouldn't matter. :p as long as their is good lore to explain it.. But my world has an ancient civilization that was destroyed in a meteorite shower by an angry angel, there tech slightly more advanced then ours, but due to their peaceful nature, no war tech till near the end which was energy weapons used to quell slave riots by stunning them.

    I have my nations and surprisingly variety in cultures though some things are the same due to lore or beliefs. plus I didn't want to muck the waters with any holy wars. :p .

    Just remember one thing I like to say "My World, My Rules,"

    I absolutely understand that, one of the reasons I write. A whole chapter about food. LOL.

    Mmmmm.... Food.
     
  21. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just a lateral adjunct to the example you provided above... Where I live (Puerto Rico) wonderfully fresh, diverse seafood is very plentiful and, compared to how it's typically engaged in the mainland U.S., incredibly cheap. Red meat, on the other hand, is quite expensive and the culinary culture around red meat is basically to the tune of cook it really, really, really, really well done. :blech: Also, thick cuts of steak are only to be found at retailers catering to Americanized Puerto Ricans, or non Puerto Ricans.

    Along with this concept of seafood being the poor-man's food - until relatively recently, beachfront property was also the domain of the very poor. People with money lived away from the water, inland, near the farms where the wealth was. Beaches were where fishermen had their shantytowns. This thought process exists to the present day where it still feels strange to genuine true-born PR's that Americans moving to the island would prize the sand rather than the mountains.

    -----------------------------------------------

    To the question: There's food in my stories, but rarely is it a focus, and if it were a focus, then it would need to matter somehow to the tell of the tale. That level of "worldbuilding" (I'm not a fan of that word) always comes off as at best borderline, at worst blatant, condescension on the part of writer. "Now, students, let me tell you all the ways you're totally wrong concerning what a feast would have been like back in them olden times...." Yes, I fully understand that there are certain readers vying for a spot at the front of that class, but me, I'm looking for the exit door. The level to which GRRM takes it sets my eyes to skimming until I find the next thing that actually matters in the story.
     
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  22. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Wreybies - speaking of islands and therefore the abundance in seafood, I remember a HK friend who lived in England and he was shocked by the complete lack of seafood in the UK. He was like, "But how's this possible? This is an island!" :-D it's true. The most the UK goes to is cod, salmon, possibly crab cakes. And it's hard to find this stuff unless you lived on the coast. Like, of course you can find it in supermarkets, but not like high quality fresh from the sea or anything.

    @John-Wayne - drooooool......

    [​IMG]
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  23. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Eating scenes in films fascinate me no end, which is why one of my favourite Pulp Fiction scenes in the one at the end (the end that's actually the beginning) where Jules and Vincent are discussing their future - Jules picking at a muffin, Vincent spreading butter and pouring maple syrup over his pancakes and crispy bacon.

    I wanted to write a novel about a group of friends travelling across America, stopping at various diners and cafes, with the eating scenes playing a major part. Until I realised it was all self-indulgent, and probably of no interest to anyone but me.

    That's not to discourage you from writing food scenes, but... I'm boring myself now, and I've lost track of what I'm trying to say anyway.

    Never mind.
     
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  24. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I would read the hell out of that - I looooove books where food is actually a character in its own right.
     
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  25. WingedClover

    WingedClover New Member

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    Food does say a lot about cultures but it can also say a lot about characters.

    Like in To Kill A Mockingbird a poor boy puts a ton of sugar and molasses on his food because he never had much or that's how he ate. This was strange to the main character at the time because she was taught not to add so much to her food and it allowed for her father or some other character to point out that the kid didn't have much back home and not to judge them for that.

    Similarly, one of my favorite martial arts manga characters was eating with a gangster. The gangster asked him why he didn't eat expensive or tasty dishes with his prize money and the martial artist replied, "I eat purely for sustenance". That said a lot about the character and how he operates with that one interaction. It helped set the two characters apart and allowed for me the reader, to see how both of them viewed eating and see how both lived their lives differently.

    The same could be said for a culture. Maybe the entire culture revolves around a certain crop like how the Irish were known for their potatoes and how they were crushed by a potato famine and the same with Chinese people and rice. In a fantasy, a witch could ruin a crop and doom an entire people or a dark ruler could threaten to do the same.

    So food can say a lot about a character. You just have to think "What could I say about this guy through his love of hamburgers or pies?"
     
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