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Through the Writer's Stomach

Updated on August 4, 2015

Recently, I shared part of a future novel, a semi-autobiographical account of a fictional experience. I got some constructive feedback re: the prologue and how to tighten it up, but I did get a complaint: "There's too much food!".

I was a little put off because no one's ever had that issue with my writing before. My novella, "Mothers, Daughters, and Everything in Between" talked about food a lot, but neither my beta reader L and my old writing teacher took issue with it when they proof-read for me. I write fanfiction, it brings up food, no one ever complains. So this was a real first, and...well, it stuck with me. I kept going to people asking "is there really a problem with food in my writing?" and wondering if I was doing something wrong. I even went through my project trying to see where I could edit out bits of food talk.

I recently came to the conclusion that...no. There's nothing wrong with my writing as long as the food porn (as I lovingly call it) is relevant. It's just my thing. It's my style, it's what I do. And I'm not the only author who does this.

Reason 1: My literary influences

A lot of the books I've read and enjoyed as a child and an adult featured food or cooking in some capacity. The Babysitter's Club (especially the Dawn and Claudia books), the All-Of-A-Kind Family series, the Tillerman saga, Cathy Kelly's Homecoming, Sarah Addison Allen's The Girl Who Chased The Moon (this one has so much there's even recipes for three of the many cakes mentioned in that book!), Beverly Cleary's books, A Girl Called Al, the Little House series, various fairy tales. As a kid, I'd read some of my favorites over and over again just for the food. I wasn't thinking about how well-written or necessary it was, I just found it entertaining and fun to read.

In my adulthood, the fascination continues. Homecoming and The Girl Who Chased The Moon are just a small part of an entire subgenre of chick-lit, where food and recipes aren't just there to look pretty or entice the reader, but as a crucial part of the characters' lives. Romance novels will often use the "way to a man's heart is through his stomach" angle to bring the hero and the heroine together, historical fiction will have the heroine learn to cook from her mother or grandmother, some contemporary fiction will feature cookbooks and recipe files belonging to the heroine's grandmother.

It's not just a trope or a convention, it's a whole genre. And one of my favorites.

Reason 2: Personal

Food has always been a big part of my life for a lot of reasons. First of all, I come from a Jewish family. Yes, it's a stereotype, but that's how it is. I grew up with my grandmother cooking matzo ball soup for Passover, having bagels and lox and potato pancakes on Hanukkah, trying to keep kosher as a kid and usually failing miserably, Chinese food on Christmas. My grandmother is an excellent cook, and my mother insisted on making dinner most nights even when my sister and I wanted pizza or sushi. My cousin's been good in the kitchen since we were kids. Dad used to make his favorite white chicken chili all the time and it's because of him I got into cooking fish more often.

Second of all, it's just always been around me. Class parties with pizza and cookies and cupcakes, the general store with it's 60-cent candy and sandwiches made to order, Mom in the kitchen, Dad at the market, my favorite books and TV shows and commercials. Junk food was especially a big deal for me because Mom was kind of a health nut who didn't want it in the house, so I'd savor being able to get my own snacks and enjoy them. Some of my favorite shows as a kid were Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet on PBS.

Third, I've been a cook ever since I was little and liked to experiment with weird recipes. I'd mix random junk together in the kitchen just for the sake of being like my favorite TV chefs, but when I was a teenager I developed a real interest in it. Most of it was trying to replicate my favorite takeout dishes, but it was fun.

Then I kinda lost interest for a while. Actually, until 2007 when I realized hey, I'm an adult, it's time I learned to cook again. And I've been at it ever since! I make my own meals 80% of the time, I check out online recipes, I have a ton of cookbooks and my late Nana's recipe file. I've gotten recipes from Grandma. I've made food to bring to family holidays. One of my long-term life goals is to one day host Thanksgiving, right down to cooking the turkey. My big gift last Hanukkah was a slow-cooker that I use on a regular basis. I've applied to places that need people to make sandwiches or drinks behind a counter. Rune Factory 3 is one of my favorite games because of the cooking mechanic. I've been giving baked goods and snacks as holiday gifts for the past three years.

Basically, I grew up surrounded by food and cooks and it's stayed with me. I like to eat, I like to cook. I could go into the theoretical psychological reasons for it, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

To be fair...

Food porn in literature isn't always going to be well done. I've read enough fanfiction where it was just plain boring due to the author's grasp of the mechanics or the tendency for it to take over the entire story, and while all pro-lit I've read with edibles involved has done it well, I'm sure there are books out there that get it wrong.

For me, it's about working it into the story. I'm the sort who doesn't mind little details that don't have major relevance to the plot if they flesh the characters out, but in the case of food I like it when it is relevant because it can make for a compelling or just fun thread in a story. Grandma's recipe file, a college student learning to cook for the first time, teenagers goofing around in a grocery store while buying snacks for a weekend home alone, the hero cooking for his love interest to show her he cares, the typical funeral buffet if someone dies. It's part of life. Stories are life.

To sum it up

The sayings go "write what you know" and "write what you want to see". Basically, writing what's in your heart or on your mind. For me, it's food, animals, pop culture, adventures and slices of life. And that, readers, is why there is so much food in my writing.

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  • Lynn Savitsky profile image
    Author

    Lynn Savitzky 2 years ago from New Jersey

    It's fuel, it's nourishment, but it can be so much more. Cooking for friends is on par with knitting them scarves or planting them flowers.

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

    Food is one of the most significant driving forces to existence.

    Interesting hub.

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