Food: A Vehicle for Personality

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Shenandoah’s new issue is featuring a piece of flash fiction by Nicholas Roerich Prize winner, Sharon Hasimito, entitled “Vindaloo.”The piece contains cancer, a subsequent death, and food. You would think that the first two would be the more attention worthy, but surprisingly it is food that takes center stage (or in this case center of the table). Hank Teroka remembers his wife through the meals that he has experienced with her. We are given very little description about her physical appearance and specific personality traits, but the types of food that she wants to eat and wants her husband to eat tell us everything we need to know. We find out that she is adventurous, caring and vivacious. Her husband, Hank, on the other hand, is more cautious and pragmatic. The fact that he is willing to try the things that she loved reinforces both the fact that he loved her and the fact that even after death his own decisions remain subject to hers.

I particularly liked this story because I’ve always said food can tell a lot about a person. I pay particular attention whenever eating is involved in a story and perhaps it is just my obsession with all things food related, but I like to think it helps me to develop a better understanding of the character. Like “Vindaloo” it can show whether a person is willing to try new things or not, but it can also tell a lot about a person’s background. For example, if a person only likes to eat McDonald’s perhaps they grew up with blue-collar parents who worked all of the time or if their comfort food is black-eyed peas and collard greens, you can bet on some type of Southern origin. Having the character eat something unusual is another tool that helps to create a more three-dimensional character and allows the author to segue into another aspect of their character’s personality.

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4 Responses to Food: A Vehicle for Personality

  1. Lauren Starnes says:

    I think that food is often a very important narrative tool. Food, or the lack thereof, can reveal a lot about a character. In his novel, The Road, Cormac McCarthy uses the character’s desire for food to create most of the story’s action. One of the book’s most poignant scenes involves the Man discovering a can of Coke. He gives his son the drink and refuses to drink any himself. Through this simple act, McCarthy shows the father’s selflessness as well as the area’s total devastation. Great post Catherine!

  2. Andrea Siso says:

    I definitely agree that food can be a vehicle for personality–both for the chef and the consumer! My mother does not cook with recipes, so it is impossible to duplicate her delectable concoctions. Whatever she adds to a basic dish underlines her personality, and causes her signature to be engraved on the tongue of whomever is lucky enough to taste her food. I’m willing to bet that I can tell my mother’s dishes apart just because of the unmistakable quality they hold, that makes them so hers.

  3. Dory Blackey says:

    I find this notion so interesting and one to which I have never given much consideration. Generally, in novels I tend to notice either a lack or surplus of food, with little attention to details. For a example, Frank McCourt’s family’s near starvation in his novel Angela’s Ashes sets the tone of the destitute in which they live. McCourt and his siblings grow up longing for the meal staples that other, better-off, Irish families feed on at the time. Yet, because those better-off in this novel eat traditional meals and because the poor have little to nothing to choose from, not much can be drawn about what food represents within these characters aside from socioeconomic status. Like Andrea, my mom and sister are of a different breed and are fortunate enough to be so. They actually say, and I quote, “cooking is my time of day to be creative”. They both lead busy lives between work and family, leaving little time for creativity, and so, have found it in cooking. As a result, the composition of their meals would ultimately say a lot about them as characters in a story.

  4. Tim McAleenan Jr. says:

    I think this type of aesthetics touches on what separates the stories that make it from the stories that don’t. The best literature often creates a self-contained ecosystem that has its own reinforcing atmosphere. A careless writer won’t think to have the music, food, colors, etc. underscore the gist of the story, but a good writer will. When you look for these types of ornamentals in a story, it can really demonstrate an additional layer of brilliance in the writings of some authors.

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