By Mary Kelly
Think about your favorite movie, book or television show. Chances are eating and drinking is essential to the plot, character, or setting. Everything from the eating cheesecake with the Golden Girls to Game of Thrones (both the book and the television show) food is almost another character. Food and drink are symbolic in every culture: making a toast with a drink, the new bride and groom eating wedding cake, bringing a casserole to someone in mourning. Sharing food and drink is our way of connecting to each other, our ancestors, and our culture. It is essentially, unspoken communication and is less about the actual food and more about what it is trying to communicate.
Choices in food and how we share meals can give us deep insight to characters and places. Lack of food and drink can also evoke meaning. Food, as it is essential for life, can communicate everything from love, status, pain, and sacrifice in ways that dialog or narrative can’t. A character, particularly women, eating raw cookie dough or ice cream straight from the carton instantly tells us that this character is hurting. The bad breakup is often illustrated with sugar laden or “forbidden” foods in everything from Romance to Mystery. In Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold contemporary romance series, a bad breakup is always marked by the women of the town getting together with food and drink while trash talking the man involved. The eating and drinking are the vehicle for these characters to support each other.
The family dinner tradition, especially during holidays, often is ground zero for high drama. Secrets and lies are often revealed or hidden during these meals. The pressure of family and tradition at a meal can be where one squares off with friends or relatives. Just about everyone has endured the discomfort of an uncomfortable family dinner at one time or another.
Aside from the symbolic nature of food, the artistic merits of cooking have become more fashionable in the recent decade. Television shows like Top Chef can show us “real” drama behind the scenes in a restaurant and the difficulties of preparing the perfect meal. Competition, creativity can come together in a whole new kind of entertainment.
The necessity of food for life is a fodder for many a mystery. Thorndike offers a variety of the culinary themed books for all tastes. Recipes and food descriptors can incite the appetite for food in addition to the drama of a murder.
Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan
Dinner Most Deadly by Sheri Cobb South
Wedding Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke
A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate Carlisle
Dead Men Don’t Eat Cookies by Virginia Lowell
Family dynamics and culture are also illustrated in general fiction as well.
Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
Honey Pie by Donna Kaufman
The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani
The Dinner by Howard Koch
The Supremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
Cooking for Picasso by Camille Aubray
Food isn’t just a fiction device for plot and character. Thorndike features some exquisite nonfiction titles illustrating the behind the scenes of a restaurant along with narratives and memoirs about art and food.
Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti
Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law by Katherine Wilson
Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney
As long as the written word has existed, eating and drinking are an embedded aspect of how we think, feel and communicate. From Eve biting the apple in the Garden of Eden to Bridget Jones obsessing about her calorie count and weight, food and drink have embedded themselves into our popular culture.