Friday, January 24, 2020

Just a Little Tummy Ache

Thank you, Aline, for your post on Monday. You've given me another destination if I actually do take a vacation in late May (meeting up with friends who want to do a bus tour of Scotland). You also made me happy that I'm working on a historical novel set during an era when one could still hope to get away with accidentally seasoning the stew with a poisonous flower.

I long to have an herb garden. Since our growing season here is short, I thought of doing a window box. My only problem is that I have a cat who snacks on anything green. I've taken to the internet to Google the various lists available on plants that are dangerous for four-legged family members. I've even noted the green plants that my cat's vet has in her office waiting room. But I'm still wary that somehow I will manage to purchase the wrong plant at the garden store and do my cat in. And, yes, I have asked the staff in several stores. They always seem reluctant to assure me of the safety of their lovely plants. I suspect they're concerned about a lawsuit if my cat decides to have a snack and gets more than a stomachache. 

One of the workshops that I'm scheduled to do at Sleuthfest in March is titled "Food, Crime, and Justice." Since I'm not an expert on poisons, I'm leaving that discussion to the presenter who is. But I do plan to discuss the theories in criminology about killers who use poison. For example, the male criminologist who in the mid-20th century wrote a book in which he argued that poison was the preferred murder weapon of female killers. This preference, he argued, was for both practical reasons and because women were secretive and devious. 

I'm going to encourage my workshop participants to think about everyday interactions that involve food and drink. I've thought about this because whenever I go back to revise my own books and short stories I notice how often my characters eat and drink. I don't think I'm capable of writing a high-octane thriller in which no one ever stops for a meal or a bathroom break. Not that I want to. My characters stop off in their favorite cafe or restaurant. They make trips to the supermarket. They talk as they are cooking and sitting down to dinner. Their favorite foods and how they consume them reveal something about them.
I always notice how characters prepare and consume food in crime films. It's one of the topics I'm discussing in my book about gangster films. For example, two of my favorite scenes in Goodfellas involve food preparation -- the gangsters cooking their own elaborate meal in the prison kitchen, and, later, Ray Liotta (as Henry Hill) back in the kitchen preparing a meal as his character's world is about to come crashing down.  

In everyday life, we do tend to pigeonhole people by what they consume -- vegans versus meat eaters. Hard-working, drive-thru black coffee drinkers versus the espresso latte elitists who lounge in cafes. We have stereotypes of who these people are -- work, friends, beliefs. In fact, these perceptions have become so much a part of American culture that politicians can alienate voters by fumbles when they try to shop in a supermarket, order a hamburger, or eat a slice of pizza. Note to politicians:  Do not eat your pizza with a fork in New York City. 

My fascination with food is one of the reasons that I'm writing a book set in 1939. My characters  travel in a Pullman coach, attend the New York World's Fair, and appreciate having enough to eat because they have survived the worst years of the Great Depression. 

Time for lunch. I missed breakfast, and I will be grateful for the meal I am about to consume.


Anna said...

I've commented on Pullman travel before, but this column on food brings up another memory: the softly padded white tablecloths in the dining car---achieved, I think but can't say for sure, by setting the tables with multiple tablecloths so a used one could be whisked off quickly to reveal the next fresh one. The tableware looked like silver but wasn't. Perhaps it was silver plate (another factoid that is surely discoverable).

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


I just saw your comment. Thank you. These are wonderful details! I will follow up so I can include.