Food as Literary Theme Summary


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The centrality of food to human experience and to personal and cultural identity is mirrored in the food preoccupations of literature. Without food, there is no life. Literature, the imaginative re-creation of life, often centers on food, eating, and cooking. Food practices and images help to define characters and values, enrich language, and illuminate cultures, regions, and particularly women’s identity and development.

The pleasure of eating is a perennial theme in literature. Joel Barlow’s mock pastoral “The Hasty-Pudding” (1796) for example, particularizes the joys of preparing and eating cornmeal. Food does more than provide sensual pleasure to the reader; it helps define character or meaning. For example, “The Hasty-Pudding,” in praising cornmeal, celebrates, with some irony, the new nation and its inhabitants. Europeans would not be pleased, or admit to being pleased, to eat corn. Ichabod Crane’s voracious appetite for the cooked dainties at the Van Tassel’s feast in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) underscores the humorous weaknesses of a personality torn by the opposite forces of reason, superstition, and appetite. Ernest Hemingway’s narratives often identify characters as manly in their overindulgence in food and drink.