Sunday, November 24, 2013

Comestibles & Character Identity

(The most perfect dessert from a wonderful bakery/cafe called "Bread and Chocolate")

As Thanksgiving is swiftly bearing down on us, I thought I would hail its many gravy boats and gooey marshmallow yam dishes,  praise buttery mashed potato peaks and  liberal dollops of fresh cranberry sauce that gleam like jelly garnets. But I'm not engaging in run-on sentences just to rant about the sanctioned sweet gluttony of this coming Thursday, though, believe me, I could go on for paragraphs about how my grandma's dinner rolls maintain the perfect ratio between airy fluff and warm substance. . . I want to talk about food as a potentially defining aspect of character identity.

For example, who can think of Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham without shuddering at her petrified wedding cake, the symbol of her ruin and lost hopes? Who can imagine Gollum without his repulsive penchant for gnashing raw and wriggling fish? Food can also function as a driving force in your character's life; in the manga/anime Kekkaishi, Yoshimora is obsessed with making the perfect cake for a girl who once almost lost her life because of him. Food can also define a place. I must confess that I still harbor a secret hope that when I die, heaven has a welcome feast at Redwall Abbey (Long have I dreamed of their nut-crusted cheeses and berry cordials)! 

I'm not saying that you should randomly insert your characters's most loved and loathed dishes, but I do think that food can sometimes act as a lens for insight into your characters. In my own life, there are dishes that uniquely define my identity, scents and tastes that now belong to the secrets of the past. For many Thanksgivings, I didn't eat turkey. My Mom lived in Spain for almost two years in her twenties and learned how to create several dishes, including paella. Thanksgiving in my family meant the sizzling of shrimp and the sweet juice of scallops mixed with peas, vegetables, and brown rice (though I always picked out the red peppers. I detest peppers). But my mother passed away and foolishly, I never learned how to make paella her way. So I will always nurse a tiny sorrow on Thanksgiving even as I treasure the memory of lost spices and flavors.

Have a great Thanksgiving, fellow denizens of Earth! In the words of a friend, "Be good to each other." 

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