Food is a great way to make a story feel real to readers. Characters who never eat and drink, unless there’s a reason given in the story for why that’s so, don’t work. They just aren’t believable.
Food also provides setting, culture, and gives lots of plot devices for the story because characters are either looking for food, acquiring food, eating food, or thinking about food a good deal of the time, even if it’s not being written about. Acknowledging food and drink, and giving our characters preferences, habits, allergies, and even diet restrictions is a great way to take something simple and use it to make our worlds feel more realistic.
I had a brief conversation with a good friend of mine regarding a food I created for my story Kasima’s Gift:
J.R.: I actually wrote in a dish of (dried) puréed figs, dates, and plums combined with goat’s milk into a kind of yogurty-jelly-paste thing tonight…
Never had it.
Never want to.
But my character loves it.
S: Is it based on a real dish?
J.R.: Not intentionally. I know that goat’s milk yogurt is a real thing. I just tried to figure what kinds of stuff could be added to it from a particular region that would make sense.
S: I think you have to make it and try it. It could be too horrible for even one of your characters to believably consume, and you need to know that information!
J.R.: I promise I will try it before I submit my manuscript for publishing. Until that time, my imaginings will have to suffice.
S: I’m going to hold you to that!
J.R.: You certainly should!
I suspect he just wants me to mix together weird stuff and eat it because it’s weird and presumably tastes awful, but I’m up to the challenge and when I do it, I’ll share the recipe too. Cooking is a hobby of mine, so it’d be fun to try making these things in real life.
As for real life, I think this is a fun food topic to mention too…
When I’m really in the flow of writing, I don’t think about stopping to eat, so having munchies nearby is a big help. I like to have baby carrots and slices of cucumber while working, or sometimes pita bites with hummus and feta cheese. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I love different flavors of tea while I work as well.
And… now I’m hungry.