Food is a large part of most cultures and one of the main guests at any celebration. A lot of our memories of growing up involve food: the smell of a roast on a Sunday afternoon, barbecues in the summer, and special cookies made at Christmas. Food and life are tightly interwoven.
Food can serve any setting well. The ideal thing about food as a part of your setting is that it can engage the five senses. We all know how onions smell frying in the pan. We recall the sizzling sound of eggs and bacon. We do not like the feeling of sugar under our feet. We like our food well presented on a plate. And most of all we know how food tastes.
The use of food is so subtle in setting, that you do not realize that it is employed at all to create an atmosphere. When we were young, we watched the condensation form on the windows as the dinner boiled on the stove on a cold winter afternoon. We knew New Year’s meant corks popping and champagne bubbles. Thanksgiving was about turkey and the following food coma afterwards.
One of the ways we learn about other cultures through reading is about the foods that are eaten. Unfamiliar and mysterious, they make the setting seem exotic.
Incorporating food in setting can help create feelings. We read about a family around the Christmas tree drinking hot chocolate and we feel warm and cozy. Young women sunning themselves drinking drinks with umbrellas in them and we can almost feel the sun on our own faces. We understand the warmth of the nip of whiskey from a flask on a bitter cold night.
The lack of food in writing serves a purpose too. The birthday of the little boy where there is no cake. The overwhelmed mother of six who has one moldy loaf of bread left.
Food is an underrated part of a book’s setting. Try to think about the sights, smells, and sounds of food and what it means to you: good or bad. Keep a mini journal of the food you eat this week and make notes from all five senses after each meal. Then use it as the quiet, very welcome guest in the background of your writing.