Food is Love
Coming from the South, and growing up with two grandmothers who both loved to cook and were offended if you left their house without eating, I now have a deep-seated, possibly genetic, urge to feed people. It can be something as small as making sure that there is chocolate in my desk drawer for emergencies, all the way up to cooking a huge Southern meal for my brother’s wedding.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about friends, family, or a potential significant other, some part of me always want to take care of people, and that means taking the time to make sure that they are well-fed and happy.
Thus, it should be no surprise that I tend to feel strongly about scenes in books that include food and feeding people. The way characters interact with food and share it with each other can really help show who they are and the nature of their relationships.
For example, in every retelling I’ve ever seen or read of Beauty and the Beast (and since it’s probably my favorite fairy tale, I’ve seen and read a LOT of them) there is a moment where Beauty and the Beast end up sitting across a dinner table. And the Beast is always reluctant to eat because he thinks Beauty will be upset by his terrible table manners. But, without fail, Beauty rises to the occasion, figuring out a way to share her favorite food with him, and they have a lovely bonding moment that moves their growing relationship forward.
“‘We’ll not leave until you’ve plenty of food and firewood.’
‘Katsa, honestly. You must go, you simply must—’
… [Katsa] refused, simply refused, to give in to the panic that rattled around inside her.
And winter’s coming, and you can make me leave you here, but you can’t make me leave you here to starve to death.”
In Graceling by Kristen Cashore, there comes a point where Katsa and Po are forced to separate, but Katsa absolutely refuses to leave—despite Po’s urging and the danger following them—until she has done everything possible to take care of him and make sure he’s warm and fed while she’s gone. She even dives into a freezing pond and stays there long enough to trap all the fish in it for him. This scene really shows the depth of their bond and how difficult it is for her to leave him.
In Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, it is established early in the first book, that Percy’s mother Sally shows her love for her son by making him subversive blue foods that irritate her terrible husband Gabe. From that point on, blue food becomes a recurring theme of the series. For example, to Percy, the magical nectar at Camp Halfblood tastes like blue chocolate chip cookies. And, in book five, The Last Olympian, despite all the crazy things that are happening, Percy’s crush Annabeth and his brother Tyson work together to provide him a blue cupcake on his birthday. It’s a very sweet moment both that shows how well they know him and that they will take time to do something special for him.
In Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14, our narrator, Dean, quickly becomes the designated cook for the group. Not because he has any particular skill at cooking (although he tries), but because he is the one who takes the time to realize that the little kids are getting hungry, and need to be fed. He then cements his good guy status by making sure that Josie eats when she’s injured and leaving plates of food out for his crush Astrid, even when she refuses to join the group. In contrast, his rival, Jake, selfishly eats the breakfast Dean had saved for Astrid, and later steals food from her plate, showing that he cares more about himself than her.
In Anna Banks’s Of Poseidon, food becomes a symbol of how different the main character’s worlds are. Emma and Galen do try to share their favorite foods with each other, but their tastes are so different that it never works. But what could have been a sticking point quickly becomes a very unique and funny game between them. It’s probably the only book in existence where actively trying to make your significant other throw up becomes a big part of the relationship. Also, Galen’s adopted human, Rachel gets an honorable mention here for going the extra mile for these kids and cooking two completely different food groups for every meal, all while dressed to the nines in her ever-present high heels.
And of course, we can’t forget The Hunger Games — a big part of the reason I’ve always been Team Gale is because Katniss trusts him to feed her family while she’s gone. To me this has always felt like a huge indication of the strength of their relationship. And, for all you Peeta fans out there, there’s a great scene in the games where Katniss feeds Peeta that precious soup and uses caring for him to sell their fake relationship to the watching crowd.