Friday, July 05, 2013

Food in Crime Fiction and Films

Hi, everyone. I need some help with a project that I'm working on. As a criminal justice professor, I'm involved in what is going to be a year-long project on "Food and Crime". We will be looking at food and justice issues – big issues such as famine, hunger in America, "food deserts" in urban communities, impact of environmental pollution on the food supply, exposure of agricultural laborers to contaminants. But we also intend to engage the community in the sharing of diverse "food stories" as a way of increasing understanding and reaching across barriers.

We are building the resources on our website for this project, and I want to be sure we're including fictional depictions of food issues. That includes crime fiction. I'm about to ask you to help by putting on your readers' caps. I know there are many culinary mysteries. I have several lists and many of the books on my shelves. What I'm interested in now is non-culinary mysteries in which food plays an important role – e.g., the murder weapon is a food item (as in my own first mystery, Death's Favorite Child, or much more famously in Roald Dahl's short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter"). I'm especially interested in works in which the presence of food/dining is related to a social issue (as in Rex Stout's Too Many Cooks, in which Nero Wolfe travels to West Virginia and during the course of the investigation has occasion to make a statement about racial equality while interacting with the African American men who work in the kitchen).

Since we are doing a film series as a part of this project, we also want to be sure we include films (crime and other) in our list of resources. It's truly amazing how many scenes in crime films involve food/dining. For example, in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Uncle Charles, who is visiting his sister and her family in small town Santa Rosa, rants about "fat, greedy" women at the dinner table when he compares busy wives and mothers like his sister to the wealthy widows in the city who spend their dead husbands' money on self-indulgence. And, then there's the scene in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), when Norman Bates keeps his next victim company while she eats the meal (sandwiches and milk) he has brought down to the motel office  so that she won't have to go back out in the rain to find a meal. Or, the scene in Falling Down (1993) when Michael Douglas, making his way across town to his ex-wife, stops in a fast food restaurant and gets a little stressed out when he is told breakfast is no longer being served. We have many other films such as Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, and Goodfellas on the list.

But it is quite possible that we have missed a classic work that should be included. If you have a favorite food-related book, short story, play, or film, please let me know. We're also including a list of non-genre works with a crime elements (e.g., Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying). This is a preliminary request for information, so you may see this pop up later on DorothyL or elsewhere, when I ask readers to participate in an online survey.

Bon appetit!


Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, the Michael Douglas scene in Falling Down was hysterical.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I show that one in my mass media class. Students always enjoy it.

Hannah Dennison said...

What a terrific project. I'll put my thinking cap on.