Hello everyone — it’s a Sunday, and that means it’s time for another (very late) issue of Fantastic Feasts and Where to Find Them! While we’ve been talking mostly about tasty, tempting dishes that tantalize our imaginary taste-buds and that have inspired several people to try to transmute them into actual, legit foods. And while it’s fun and all to talk about cool things like butterbeer that inspire whimsy and visions equivalent to sugar plums dancing around our heads–sometimes fictional food, quite frankly, sucks.
As much as we love the tasty stuff, we’re also interested in the taboo, the dangerous, the things you probably wouldn’t or shouldn’t eat–because it creates a different kind of tension and tone than if we were sitting at Brian Jacques’ table for lunch. So lets take a glance at what probably isn’t fantastic or feast-worthy, and why it’s actually a pretty cool story point (nd hence, definitely not on the menu for things to try to cook, haha).
Food as a story device is an interesting aspect of fiction. Food can inspire whimsy, is definitely a boon for world-building–and its absence or abundance can actually help set the tone of the story. You want dark? You can have tempting food that’s quite treacherous. Comedy? Well sometimes the gross stuff can be hilarious, too. Food is more than just sustenance, and actually has a profound effect on creating and maintaining tension!
For instance, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a stunning visual dark fantasy that contends with some of our favorite fairy-tale tropes, including the whole idea of the “forbidden feast.” You know, the whole deal of telling someone–say, a child who is kind of hungry–that they can’t do a Thing–like, eat food–or else Very Bad Things will happen. Or what usually happens: open up a Grimm’s Fairy Tale book and we have many instances of would-be heroes tasked with something simple as “Don’t you eat this piece of fruit or I swear to God you’ll lose everything” and due to human failing or plot-points, they do it anyway.
When our intrepid hero, the young Ofelia, must face off against the Pale Man she is explicitly warned not to consume anything on his otherwise sumptuous feast table. Food is tempting, speaks of opulence and again, there is something that is whimsical about food and strikes at one of our core needs for sustenance–to think food can be perilous is quite silly. Especially with a spread like this:
Delicious tension and delicious danger–of course, we all know (or kind of know) the consequences of what eating something from this otherwise nice looking dinner table will be. Something Bad. But it’s tempting anyway, to look at, and while you probably shouldn’t eat it, damn does it play up on our senses and make us want it.
Another neat way to use food to build tension, tone, and basically ensure you’ll side-eye big corporate food stuffs? Look no further than the good old classic dystopian foodie film’s titular dish: Soylent Green.
Okay, again, this is a classic that I think a lot of us know the delicious twist ending of. But it’s perhaps one of the best examples of that tension with food stuffs, heightened only by its prominence in a dystopian setting. Jonathon Swift, author of A Modest Proposal, would be ever so proud of the Soylent Corporation’s genius.
Or we can go from the disturbing to the sad. I mean, we know food can be bittersweet, right? How about when Team Rocket tried their latest money-making scam to sell off Slowpoke tails.
I mean, the people of Johto have to get their protein from somewhere, right?
Although, judging by the outrageous price and the number of sad Slowpoke milling about, Slowpoke tails probably aren’t good for you to eat and should actually move you to feel compassion for the critters and go out and kick some Team Rocket butt! (No judgment if you bought it, promise).
Of course, we don’t always fall into the macabre with food–in fact it also leads to some of our best comedy, ever since Shakespeare. I mean come on, I would give all my fame for a pot of ale; I pray you, do not fall in love with me, For I am falser than vows made in wine–real knee-slappers here. And let’s be honest, sometimes repulsive images of food can stick with us just as well as the delectable and are key to lining up the punch line of a joke. (Get it, punch, as in, fruit punch–okay well let’s move on).
For instance, Roald Dahl, the rapscallion behind great children’s literature such as The Big Friendly Giant and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had an eye for quality when it came to dubiously delectable–and quite dangerous foodstuffs. The
unfortunate group of children who got the tour of their lives through Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory certainly had the time of their lives–nearly drowning in a chocolate river, and swelling up into a blueberry certainly writes off the factory “samples” as things one should not eat, at all. Of course, Mr. Wonka did plant them there to tempt the children and play on their own vanities, hmmm….
Actual repulsive food, though, is something that Dahl is quite good at cooking up — but instead of generation tension, food can ease it and again, provide much needed comic relief. The affable BFG is a vegetarian giant who refuses to eat humans and instead subsists on Snozzcumbers–not to be confused with that British actor people seem to fawn over these days.
The Snozzcumber is something like a cucumber that’s black, and white, and warty all over. Grody.
There really is little to describe it other than repulsive, unpalatable, but necessary to avoid eating humans. And in a very Dahl-like fashion, this foodstuff was again introduced as a way to relieve tension, to prove the BFG is a lovable oaf through the solidarity found in personally subsisting on something that tastes like a mix between rotten fish, frog-skin, cockroaches, and slime. It’s a fitting way to tie in character development and bonding–but dang, definitely not on the menu. Nope.
And while we’re on the topic of weird vegetable-like matter, who remembers the Simpsons and tomacco?
Tomacco–a hybrid between a tomato and a tobacco plant–is in its own way kind of classic. And kind of disgusting, especially with its addictive properties affecting several farm animals that can only be described as the predecessor to that one Weta Workshop film we don’t like talking about, you know, the one about the killer sheep.
But it’s wandering into the absurd that would do the old Bard proud–even if the thought of an actual tomato-tobacco hybrid just makes me want to puke, it otherwise provides the background for some stunning Simpsons commentary on the tobacco industry through a good dose of humor.
Oh and, while we’re on the topic of things you probably shouldn’t want to make or eat from the realm of fiction, we’re going to have to add these little demons to the very end:
Anything that claims it can taste like everything is suspicious and definitely untrustworthy and I suppose cool in theory but in practice would be a lovely game of wizarding Russian roulette. Seriously, don’t risk it.
So, what have we learned today? Something along the lines of how rich food can be when it comes to tension and tone–even if you don’t rely on it too much, it certainly can make the mood. And, that such foods can kill appetites as quickly as they inspire fans to try to recreate them. Annnd that’s all there is to this look at some Fantastic Feasts you probably don’t want to find — tune in next time when we actually tackle something that’s tasty!