Saturday, October 08, 2011

And Then She Ate a Peach

Remember, you are what you eat. Here’s what I am today:

2 pieces of raisin toast, 2 cups of coffee;a sample of sunflower butter on toast from Trader Joes; 1/2 Ambrosia apple; 1 cup of vanilla rooibos tea. 1 container apricot mango yogurt; 1 eggplant rollentini frozen entree; 1/2 chocolate chip cookie. 8 mini-pretzels.

Does that tell you anything about me?

Sylvester Stallone once said that he ate lots of protein before filming Rocky, because lots of protein builds your muscles and slows your thinking, and lots of carbs before filming the movie Assassins* because carbs give you a shot of energy and help you think fast. When you saw Rocky Balboa slug down a glassful of raw eggs, did that tell you anything about his character?

Just as a character’s surroundings, clothing, dialect and vocabulary, or choice of friends and activities show you a lot about what kind of a person she is without the author having to tell you, I’ve been noticing that what the character eats and how, and his attitude toward food, can do the same.

I mentioned this to my husband, and he told me that a particular passage in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises has stuck with him for years since it set such a scene for him. He read about a group of men traveling through Spain together who take time out to eat lunch, and, forty years later he still remembers the menu : They drank red wine out of a goatskin bag and ate tuna, boiled eggs, and lettuce with a little vinegar on it. Can you see it? The camaraderie, the Spanish countryside, the young men roughing it with a makeshift meal.

To test this theory, I closed my eyes and pulled three random mysteries off my shelf and leafed through to see if I could find a place where the author used food to set a scene or gave us insight into a character.

1. Bailey Ruth may be a ghost, but that doesn’t mean she’s not interested in food. This is a scene from Merry Merry Ghost, by Carolyn Hart : “On a sideboard stretched an array of tantalizing holiday treats: cheese, fruity, crackers, brownies, and what might be the remnants of a birthday cake.
I was ravenously hungry. Being on the earth, even when not visible, I needed food and sleep. I found that interesting. I zoomed to the sideboard, eyeing the Brie."

2. Does Ellie Foreman feel comfortable with her wealthy and privileged lunch companions? What do you think? From An Image of Death, by Libby Fischer Hellmann: “...I shoveled salad into my mouth feeling just a bit overwhelmed.
The waiters cleared our plates, then brought out brandy snifters filled with sorbet. As I smiled up my thanks, I caught the waiter staring at my chest. I looked down. A dark, oily stain was spreading across my blouse ...I propped an elbow o the table, in an effort to hide the offending spot. Resting my chin on my hand, I tried to appear thoughtful."

3. I think we know just what Jessie’s ex-cop dad and dad’s old partner were like, now. Taken from Liar’s Anonymous, by Louise Ure : “After five eight-hour shifts a week, they fished Pena Blanca Lake together for stipers, smallies, and wahoo, and practiced their fire-extinguishing skills every weekend barbecuing ribs and beer-soaked chicken in the backyard."

I was three for three.

*actually, I believe it was Paradise Alley, but I think his character was smarter in Assassins.


Charlotte Hinger said...

And the food scene that could inspire readers to murder? Oliver Twist where those supervising the workhouse/orphanage were stuffing themselves while the boys ate gruel. Oliver's heartbreaking plea "Please sir, can I have some more?"

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just aweome!!!!!!! great!

hannah Dennison said...

What a fabulous post! This is terrific - I hadn't considered using this idea for illustrating a character. I am too embarrassed to tell you what i ate today - but a big clue - it began with pancakes and will most likely end with dark chocolate.

Donis Casey said...

Sounds very sweet to me, Hannah.

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