Literature is marked by memorable feasts and fanciful foods, familiar recipes, and foreign delicacies. From the White Queen’s dangerously delicious Turkish Delight in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to the Crachit’s Christmas goose in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” I have always gravitated towards food in fiction—as feast, as symbol, as uniter, as divider, as a main character in the stories that shaped me.
I share this fascination with fictional food with a whole world of bloggers dedicated to interpreting recipes from literature—from Moby Dick’s hearty New England clam chowder to Katniss Everdeen’s lamb stew with plum sauce, which totally captivated me when I read “The Hunger Games.” Indeed, the biggest loss between “The Hunger Games” book and the movie was that the movie neither made me feel the weight of a world slowly starving nor captured the joy of food, robbing moviegoers of the central character and concept of food culture.
When we first meet Katniss, she is surviving on stolen eggs, squirrel, and the meager rations of the tesserae. Burnt bread saves her life, as does the only inheritance she got from her late father—the ability to shoot an arrow and identify native plants. From the brink of starvation, Katniss rediscovers the simple pleasure of food, sitting with Gale and enjoying a meal made for locavores: warm bread with a dollop of goat cheese, paired with fresh berries and a basil leaf. Food perfection.
Food takes on a whole new meaning once Katniss is chosen for The Hunger Games. Readers are treated to sumptuous descriptions of the orgy of food meant to fatten her up, a kind of demented Hansel and Gretel for the gaming generation. There is creamy chicken, mushroom soup, cheese, and noodles and pudding and pale purple melon and hot chocolate and oranges everywhere. Katniss eats herself sick. She can’t fathom what it must be like to “live in a world where food appears at the press of a button”. Cinna sees her struggles and says “how despicable we must seem to you”—an emotional high point in the book, brought to you by food.
“The Hunger Games” book is deliberate in making food, and food culture, a central character. In contrast, the movie focuses more on the Games, romance, and fashion, perhaps the right marketing choice for a summer action film but one that leaves the movie goer with a diminished experience. Lost is the intensity of Katniss’ hunger and the centrality of her food community .
Movies can do food right. See “Big Night” or “Chocolat” or the delightfully demented “Willy Wonka” (the original of course). On this score, “The Hunger Games” does not suffice. But fear not, “Hunger Games” foodies: you can experience lamb stew with plum sauce thanks to fan sites that understand and celebrate the centrality of food, culture and community in “The Hunger Games” in a way Hollywood could not.
OxfamBuzzList is a new blog series about the movies, books, blogs, TV shows, music, and more that have Oxfam staff and supporters talking. Please leave a comment, or offer us your own contribution (400 words or less). E-mail Andrea Perera, Oxfam America’s Web Editor, at [email protected].