Ernest Hemingway had an uncanny ability to reel the reader into a story by using food and appetite. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recounts what it means to be a hungry and poor artist who is living in Paris in the 1920’s. Some of the best writers will transition or put a break in a story with meal or drink, even a lack thereof. The act of eating and appetite is so human, that is makes the reader believe that both the writer and his character must also be human, alluding to a kind of caveman connection. This can be an easy method for capturing your reader, as it is an activity that absolutely everyone would share, yet not all authors portray it as accurately as say Hemingway or Tolkien.
For those of you that have actually read
The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, many pages are devoted to provisions on the troop’s journey, stopping somewhere for a respite and drink, or Bilbo’s strange fascination with many, many small meals and tea time. I remember my father reading Tolkien at night in an old chair and demanding food to eat during his time devoted to those now old words. He would devour cakes, cookies, beer and cheese because he was inevitably going to read about delicious Middle Earth morsels in between the fascinating tale. These weren’t, for the most part, store bought items either, but homemade baked goods fit for the adventure between those pages.
Nourishment can be a great tool, but in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway uses the lack of food to get his point across. At one point, he brings you to the table, describing the difficulty of being relatively poor, hungry- a writer in Paris with all of the great smells. Through his roaming of the city while looking for food, Hemingway even brings the reader to locations where there was no food to be found at all, making the audience question whether this was in fact a good place to be for such a hungry person. As I read this over again, I could feel my stomach turn and inventory the contents of my fridge and pantry.
When I lived in New York City, I often felt the same way, lost in choices, with restaurants everywhere but no place to actually eat. Food was so expensive there as well; I often felt tasty morsels were both everywhere and nowhere all at once.
In America, we go for the easy fix-fast food. What about in our writing? Do you know of a modern author that uses food to their advantage like Hemingway did? Do your characters stop at McDonald’s- and is it even worth writing about if they do?
Then Hemingway wears the hat of an optimist and speaks of the artistic benefits of hunger. Now I will often ponder these benefits, but I don’t purposefully go hungry. My biggest fault is that I get so busy with writing or other entrepreneurial activities that I simply forget to eat, but I never forget to drink coffee black. Does this change my writing? Do you write on a full belly or do you take the advice of a standing Hemingway and starve or only drink booze and smoke in order to garner more artistic expression?
The starving artist in the story then goes to the book shop, speaks to his friend, and discovers that he has money and thereby gorges. This part is like an eruption to the reader. At almost half a page, you can become full just by listening to his description of how he eats with money in his pocket after being so uncomfortably hungry. The protagonist then continues to muddle over quitting journalism, getting melodramatic and how his stories were lost forever and how he would continue on.
At the surface of this section, not much happens. The writer wanders around town hungry, goes to a shop, gets money and eats a great deal of food. In reality, the story takes the reader so much further by using tension, confusion, optimism, and clever human insight.
At the center of it all-food. Does this have the same effect for modern writers where characters are running wild eating Krystal burgers and downing protein shakes to bulk up?
In Modern Waste, I used food to help describe a young man’s desire to create the perfect scenario for a love nest with his girlfriend. I talked of the inside of a police car and the inevitable pile of grease-lined wrappers. I also used a diner scene with a pretty waitress and serious conversation to cure a hangover. Even in classic fashion, I described a homemade meal to help define a family dynamic with regards to chores and responsibility. The destruction of a section of a peach orchard and the sucking down of a orange and red beauty were used to wet the mouth of a reader after violent action
Was it effective? Let me know by writing a review of Modern Waste. I do not believe that I consciously thought about the food while I was writing in order to make a point but I can see the advantage I brought when I did use food to continue the journey of the human condition. Hemingway must have consciously used food, or lack thereof, but did Tolkien, or did he just know that they had to eat?
How do you use food in your writing?