A person’s outlook on life, habits, hobbies, patterns, assumptions, and lifestyle, among other characteristics, are based in part on food. People say they’re vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, or omnivorous. Some people eat some things only with other things, not after 7pm, or only during certain hours of day. They cook at home or order in. They count grams of fiber, protein, or carbohydrate. And so on. You can tell a lot about people by the way they nourish themselves.
So really, why should fictional characters be any different?
In Betting on Hope, my characters started an organic farm in a last-ditch effort to make their ranch economically feasible. They eat the less-than-perfect vegetables and sell the perfect ones in a subscription delivery service and to area restaurants, barely squeaking by.
In some ways, the vegetables are almost characters themselves. The organic carrots go upscale when they arrive at a casino’s high-end sushi restaurant, where they’re carved into fancy shapes for fastidious and wealthy clients. But the beets turn into convenient weapons when the mob and the FBI mix it up on the casino’s loading dock—although the poker player among them thinks only frozen beets make good weapons.
In the story, everyone’s relationship to food helps define who they are or what they might become—or even what their fallback position, culinarily speaking, is. The task of the youngster in the story is to write up recipes for the delivery boxes, but she’s not knowledgeable enough to do a good job improvising the ingredients. As a birthday present, the poker player gives her a cooking lesson from the sushi chef, and she’s so thrilled with the idea that she makes lunch for her family and visiting guests. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she thinks she might like to be a baker.
But not all the food is fancy. In a crisis, the poker player provides McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches to an anxious group.
Even eating out helps to define the characters. Where do they choose to go? Some prefer the casino’s all-you-can eat buffet. Some stick with a favorite restaurant’s daily specials. Some are adventurous eaters. Some not.
Food—and the daily sharing of meals—can shape and even help define a person, a family, and even a nation. By showing how, what, and with whom my characters eat, I’ve tried to sharpen their personalities and clarify their values to help readers see more clearly who they are and what’s important to them.
It’s been fun. And now I think I’m ready for a snack.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Kay!
Kay Keppler grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin but moved to California to escape the cold and snow. Now she lives in a drafty old house with dodgy plumbing and spends her time writing.