I am, I think you could say, mildly obsessed with food lately.  I baked zucchini bread this morning (Betty Crocker, with butter instead of oil, and ginger and nutmeg added – tasty) and as soon as it was in the oven I was flipping through cookbooks looking at recipes.  I would bake that blueberry pie except I’m short on berries and don’t have time to pick more and make pie crust before work.  I just want to bake bake bake.  Not like I would ever want to do it for a job, I’m not that obsessed, but I would like people to buy me ingredients and then I would bake for them and watch them drool over the results.  Baking on commission?  Or maybe I just need to start bringing lots of things into work.  But then, of course, I would go off baking and feel like there was never anything to munch on around the house.

I just read an article in the New Yorker (probably a few months old) about food in fiction.  Something about four different kinds – oh, let me just go find it.  Okay, “food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food than author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.”  (“Cooked Books,” Adam Gopnik, April 9, 2007.)

Appropriately, as I was typing that out I overheard a passer-by say, “Has she tried Weight Watchers?  That’s a good one for people who like to eat.”   You know, all those overweight people who HATE food?  They can try the other weight loss programs.

Ahem.  As I was trying to say, the article got me thinking.  I was quite pleased that it mentioned (and found improbable) a cooking scene I’d noticed: the fish stew in Ian McEwan’s Saturday.  A book that irritated me more and more as it went along.  One of Gopnik’s points was that authors often use these drawn out cooking scenes as a device to draw out a character’s thought process.  That all those instantaneous realizations we have would seem improbable if they occurred instantaneously in fiction, and so these artificial backdrops are created to spread the process out against.

Do we actually think things through while cooking, like these characters?  I’m honestly not sure what I think about while I cook, but I’m pretty sure that I’m thinking about something more than what I’m doing.  It’s fairly automatic, a lot of it.  Measuring, reading the recipe, mixing – it’s not a challenge.  It’s a routine.  Which is probably why I enjoy it – it’s activity, room for experimentation, a mild disconnect from everyday things.  I’m not baking to live, I’m baking to…escape?

Actually, baking today, I was listening to Eat, Pray, Love and thinking about praying and divorce.  There you have it.  So if I ever want to make a fictional character bake through a thought process, I’ll feel justified.  The first book that comes to mind with food is Eat Cake.  Baking as therapy.  There are also the books where food features prominently – I’m thinking of Life as We Knew It – which I suppose would be a blend of showing who the characters are (what they crave, what they stock up on) and serving it to the reader (to make you feel like you’re starving, too?)  I’m not sure, really, that the food neatly fits into the four categories.  No matter the reason the author has for mentioning food, I usually feel like I’m eating it, too.  The endless cups of tea and glasses of sherry in Gaudy Night might be meant to show who the characters are, but inevitably I end up making a cup of tea (no sherry for me, thanks).

I’m not feeling as articulate as I’d like about this, but I have a strong urge to find food references in all my favorite books and categorize and analyze them.

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