There is a movie coming out this evening. It is the next in the series of movies set in the “Star Wars” universe, and yes, that is in fact an odd opening sentence for a column about food. But the movie’s release got me thinking a bit about how various science fiction and fantasy books and movies handle the topic of food.
I will admit that I am not entirely familiar with the three most recent Star Wars “Prequel” movies. I saw the first within a day of its release, but apart from annoyance, I can tell you very little about it. I’m sure I’ve seen Episodes II and III at some point, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you any but the most broad plot points. All of that is my way of saying that if there’s a lot of food in the “prequels,” I don’t know about it.
I do know there’s not a great deal about eating in the original trilogy. There are a few meals/drinks consumed here and there in those movies, but there’s not much detail. Contrast that with a property like Star Trek, where – in the later iterations, at least – food came up quite a bit. Sure, some of it was simply a character walking up to a “replicator” and asking for something, but now and again what the person requested was intended to say something about their character. It was detail, but detail for character development rather than plot.
Then there’s Tolkien, in which the food and drink is sometimes as important to setting a scene as the imaginative languages the author invented for the series. In the scenes set in the Shire, in particular, Tolkien’s stand-ins for his countrymen are famously thinking about food all the time. It’s something with which we can identify down here. It was also, I believe, a completely ridiculous marketing campaign for some sort of chain restaurant breakfast menu.
I’m not going to get too esoteric on you here, both because I’ve read a lot of speculative fiction, and because most of that speculative fiction is decades old and probably out of print, but also because I’m wondering whether the revolution in food-culture of the last decade or so has influenced the genre, and I’m asking you to help me out.
I believe that any details, described well and utilized for a real purpose, can bring you into an imaginative world. Food, of course, is something with which we are all, necessarily, intimately familiar. When you’re trying to imagine a world of starships capable of warp-speed, or where dragons, elves and orcs exist, having something relatively familiar can ground things.
So if any of you out there are also fans of the genre, please give me some recent examples of authors who’ve done it well, as well as authors who’ve messed it up. I’ll be more interested in the former, of course, but I’ll almost certainly check out the latter too.