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Of Frothy Chocolate Drunk From Crumbling China In A Chocolate House

Melt the cheapest variety of chocolates available over a hot pan of water. Stir till silky and frothy. Add a cup of milk and one spoon of full cream. Two spoons of sugar, if you feel indulgent and if the guests coming, are important and not new money. The nouveau bastards won’t know the difference either way. Serve in the ancestral tea set you preserved after selling off your diamonds. Garnish with the most expensive chunk of chocolate available. Don’t forget to keep a cup aside for him, as a last attempt to stop him from going to the blasted debauched chocolate houses.

In this column, dear reader, as we draw close to an ending, I’d like to go back to the beginning. This beginning is the one of chocolate. Chocolate and the roots of its building into the commodified and much-loved condiment that it is today. What I also look at is an analysis of the significance of chocolate and chocolate houses as reflections of the social processes and change during the Eighteenth Century. Chocolate represents the crumbling of the old aristocracy while indicating the arrival of the industrial age and the revolution for egalitarianism.

On September 14, 1715, Dudley Ryder wrote in his diary:

“Rose between 6 and 7. Got myself ready for my journey to the Hay with Cousin Billio and his wife. At 7 o’clock cousin and his wife came. They would not stay to drink chocolate and so left me to follow them after having drank some chocolate.”

Ryder, Attorney General in 1745 and later Lord Chief Justice, was an uptight man, extremely particular about rules, and the fact that he delayed his trip to drink his chocolate indicates to the careful reader, the obsession of the English citizens of the early Eighteenth Century with this drink, which was very carefully manufactured.

After the first beans of cocoa had hit the European continent in the sixteenth century, the first chocolate drink was sold in a shop called The Coffee Mill & Tobacco Roll. The drink had been earlier sold in Coffee houses, but due to its bitter taste and expensive rates, it was ignored for a cup of coffee that had more caffeine and hence, packed a better punch in a cup.

As Matthew Green notes for Chocolate Houses in London, “For a city with little tradition of hot drinks (coffee had only arrived five years earlier), chocolate was an alien, suspect substance drunk associated with Popery and idleness (i.e. France and Spain)” and, it came from alien lands of the new world for the herb was said to be grown in Central America, giving it a mysterious and sketchy aura for the English elite.

Hence, to generate a demand the market was flooded with a “slew of pamphlets”(Green), posters put up in every nook, diaries and the newspapers carried accounts of chocolate as this wondrous miracle drink that cured hangovers, was preferred by royalty and more popularly, acted as an aphrodisiac.

As William Hughes writes: “[Chocolate] revives drooping spirits and cheers those ready to faint, expelling sorrow, trouble, care & all perturbations of the mind, is an ambrosia … it cannot be too much praised.”

“The public was sold on it” (Green), and soon, multiple Chocolate Houses sprang up across London giving rivalry to the coffee houses and tavern culture. White’s Chocolate House established in St. James’s Street (1699) was one of the most popular. Incidentally, it is also the model for the chocolate house setting for Congreve’s The Way of the World. Its popularity gave the English Government another lucrative opportunity to earn money and so a heavy tax was imposed on it.

The tax ensured that only the wealthy could afford the drink, thereby rendering the Chocolate Houses, spaces for the privileged. The Chocolate Houses also capitalised on the fact that it was aristocracy and the nouveaux rich who were their target audience and hence, introduced an entrance fee of a penny besides the additional cost of chocolate. To cater to every whim of those with the money, the Chocolate Houses transformed into hubs of gambling, political discussion, gossip and all kinds of debauchery the rich and those who aspired to be rich indulged in.

And hence, in “the most fashionable hell” that London was, the Chocolate Houses became the most fashionable and hellish institution around. To be able to afford a drink of chocolate declared one’s status and to frequent the place made one fashionable.

In light of what stood as modish, let’s take a detour to visit the idea of the emergence of London City which ran parallel to the emergence of chocolate Houses in London. What Arthur J. Weitzman notes about the changes in London as it emerges as a city, that “The increase of trade brought wealth to the city and sparked a building boom”, is evident in the fact that multiple stores and institutions started selling chocolate and Chocolate houses opened to cope with the demands.

Also, “there was a steady improvement of civic life as affluence and luxury seeped down through the classes in the city” (Green), and nothing spelt luxury like chocolate did. The drinking of chocolate became a performance that the aristocrats and the new moneyed class (that had earned their wealth through trade; in some cases trade of cocoa itself) indulged in, to establish their status in the society. This ‘performance’ was reflective of a larger anxiety that was prevalent in the society.

The waves of economic change introduced through the opening up of trade marked the cultural transformation from “vestigial feudalism to a new economic order,” one governed by money and not birth or blood. The aristocracy desperately clutching to the power they derived from their status emphasised the performance, and the gentility (the new moneyed classes) indulged in this performance, in turn, to prove their status.

This is also reflected in the first act of The Way of The World (1700) set in a chocolate house. The act has Petulant, the fool and the fop desperate for social ascendance in class, who pays people to call on him in the chocolate house to accord himself importance. If one would look at it in light of Foucault’s discourse on power, this is a clear example of a body made docile by the discourses and institutions of power and then, made to submit to the codes of behavior expected from his aspired-to class.

The relevance of the Chocolate Houses lies in the manner in which Congreve uses it to show the trajectory and irrelevance of the Rake figure in the contemporary times and the New Century. As many critics have noticed, the Restoration rake did become the reformed rake, as morality triumphed and sentimental comedy took over.

Richard Braverman argues that the failure of Fainall – the rake figure in the play, and hence positioned as the villain, lies in the fact that he hadn’t adapted to the changing times unlike Mirabell. Fainall hence represents the old crumbling aristocracy in the face of the new society governed by money.

In an analogy related to the chocolate house, Braverman writes that Fainall’s power has been proven symbolically impotent. His Rakish status is outdated and dead when he asks, “Bring me some Chocolate.”

Braverman writes,“Fainall is himself powerless by the location of his ‘court’. He holds forth in a chocolate house, a venue of new men and social equality, rather than the tavern, where rakes traditionally assemble to restore themselves after a debauch.”

Fainall’s court, representative of royalty and aristocracy, has been replaced by a chocolate house. An institution governed by power and privilege secured through birth and blood has been replaced by an institution governed by money.

In a paradox, the social set up of Chocolate Houses, governed by money, ends up democratising power and debauchery. Debauchery and Rakishness earlier reserved for the elite, are now due to the power of the money, available to all. Hence, to spin the words of a common anecdote to suit the purpose of the argument — when everyone is a debauched rake, no one is a debauched rake.

In another paradox, the chocolate house becomes a symbol is of, in this context, one associated with the spirit of Revolution in the eighteenth century. The spirit of the chocolate in the Chocolate Houses reflects a democratisation of society based on money but also, the debauchery and cruel decadence of the rich and the royal, in sharp contrast with the dying poor, which became a premier cause of the French Revolution itself. One has to but look at the instance of the royal family’s Flight to Varennes in 1791 where Marie Antoinette refused to part with her silver chocolatière, to realise the significance of the chocolate symbolism.

Chocolate Houses, were as Braverman calls them: “A venue of male sociability reserved for news and gossip, wit and especially cards.” The decadence associated with gambling ran so deep as to destroy whole inheritances, fortunes and even kill people. The addiction to gambling and the destructive power of it is evident in the legendary White’s betting book, which archives wagers from 1743 to 1878. It consists of bizarre predictions like:

“Mr Howard bets Colonel Cooke six guineas that six members of White’s Club die between this day of July 1818 and this day of 1819’, reads one typical entry (Colonel Cooke won). Elsewhere there are bets on which celebrities will outlive others; the length of pregnancies; the outcomes of battles; the Madness of George III; the future price of the stock; and whether a politician will turn up to the Commons in a red gown or not.”(Green, 2017)

To return to the cruel underbelly of the cruelty of Chocolate Houses – what chocolate itself was representative of was slavery. Labelled by Carl Linnaeus, the 18th-century scientist as Theobroma cacao — food of the gods – it was a product of the exploitation of the slaves, from the plantation culture in the colonies of Africa to the very trading of cocoa beans as a commodity along with the slaves.

Another insight that further reflection upon the connection of Slavery and Chocolate offers is into the relationship between the Old World and the New World. A chocolate according to James F. Gay was more “American than American Pie.” It was one of the few things, a subset of trade practices that was linking the two worlds together amidst their fraying strands of connection as the New World declared its independence.

Chocolate allowed other products of slavery to flourish, like Sugar. If one were to compare the recipe of Chocolate drink between the two centuries the comparison yields the following result.

In 1692 the following recipe was published by M. St. Disdier of France:

“2 pounds prepared cacao

1 pound fine sugar

1/3 ounce cinnamon

1/24 ounce powdered cloves

1/24 ounce Indian pepper (chile)

1 1/4 ounce vanilla

A paste was made of these dried ingredients on a heated stone, and then it was boiled to make hot chocolate.”

By 1700, Sidney Mintz notes, “Chiles” disappeared completely from the recipes and was replaced with an extra ounce of sugar. He attributes this to the significance of sugar as a luxury product that “embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.” He further elaborates “sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.”

The aristocracy’s clinging to chocolate to define their status and the increase in the portion of sugar and cocoa which represents the new money culture emphasises how Chocolate became a symbol of the Old and New period. The fact that the bitter cocoa extract of the 1650s which was discarded by all became the envious frothy “food of the gods” liquid of the eighteenth century symbolises the nature of the change that the turn of the eighteenth century brought. It was a change that said loud and clear that the aim was to not destroy the old culture, but in the true essence of its utilitarian economical reasonable ideology, the purpose was to preserve the best parts of the old, while recreating a convenient New.

The seeds of the Industrial Revolution themselves can be seen in the production of cocoa as people discovered newer implements to mass produce chocolate as demand for it increased. In France, 1776 Dorset invents a hydraulic processor to grind cocoa beans into a paste, facilitating the first large-scale production of chocolate. The constant inventions and experimentation with the recipe of the drink and its associated implements hinted at an age obsessed with science and innovation.

To conclude, chocolate and chocolate houses themselves became an emblem of social relations and more importantly a social change in the eighteenth century. The consumption and production peaked and declined with the beginning and ending of the century, connoting the whimsical time of the Eighteenth Century.

The production declined in line with the revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity but when chocolate returned in the Nineteenth century as a product of an Industrial mass production rather than, the colonial upper-class decadence, it was here to stay.

As I end my last column of the year, it is but obvious for me to enquire of the reader if you have stayed with us from the basting through the roasting and finally plating?

If yes, I hope that the next time you look at that chunk of chocolate in your hand or read about the picnic of Blyton’s Famous Five, you will think of food as more than just bread and butter that Anne made and Julian ate.


devika_edit4.png

Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain

 

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Of English, American Cheeses clubbed with Paneer in the Melting Pot

On a low flame, place the non-stick frying pan of the latest quality. With a little butter, add the hunk of rare English Stilton cheese that Chachaji brought for the family from his last Europe tour. As soon as it starts melting, add about five slices of American processed cheese available in your nearest supermarket. The two melted masses should mix into each other, but don’t be alarmed if bits of the American cheese stick out of the goop. It is an inherent quality of the American cheese, especially when cooked with an English one. To give it an exotic and exciting taste, add turmeric, cumin and red chilli powder.

Serve with a dash of saffron brought straight from the hills in an airtight plastic bag, available at your nearest supermarket.

Spread on English wheat bread or roti, whatever suits your taste.

As identities around the world get further convoluted with the circulation diverse ideas, some embrace the oncoming change, while for others, it becomes important to assert their authenticity through their “Indian-ness” or “American-ness” in the face of the massive ideological onslaught.

Amidst this tumult of the citizens of the world coming to terms with their hybrid-cosmopolitan identities informed by the chaos of politics, circulating ideas, cultural and religious influences, economic conditions, our movements, restriction of these movements and multiple other factors, the space where these play out becomes very important.

Our food obviously embodies this tumultuous state of our identities while reflecting the metaphorical heat these identities are cooked under. Whether it’s the slight bashing of religion or the tadka of politics, our food reflects the space our identities are created and exist in.

The 2006 Man-booker novel of Kiran DesaiThe Inheritance of Loss puts food and its associated imagery to brilliant use by using it as a literary device which paints a raw, heart wrenching and yet, a satirical picture that encompasses multiple ideas. Though Desai’s work does not reek of the excessive “Indian spice” that Indian-English writers often, in their bid to appear exotic, generously sprinkle —pardon, pour— all over their product, her novel does create a coagulated mass which — though an extremely intelligent and well thought-out one—might be hard to digest for a mundane reader.

Publisher’s Weekly writes about it as ‘…alternately comical and contemplative…[Desai] deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating…the blinding desire for a “better life”.’

Jemubhai Popatlal Patel, usually known as the Judge throughout the novel, inhabits the identity of a colonial servant—the babu, rendered a foreigner in his own country as he disregards his Indian origins to eat even his rotis and puris with a fork and knife. The novel circles around him and his household consisting of his granddaughter Sai, his cook, and the latter’s son Biju.

The cook, his identity consumed by his profession, has no name or identity beyond his kitchen and the house of his employer. But in an attempt to give his son the dignity and independence that he lacks, he sends Biju to the USA. The novel literally jumps between the First and Third world as it captures the experiences of Biju in America. The Judge’s present day household is caught between the Gorkhaland insurgency and the Judge’s own colonial memories.

One of the most important images that make the relationships between most of the characters in the novel painfully clear is that of the Dining table in the house. A dining table, even in an Indian household much like this one, indicates several things. First, it represents a desire to be Western-ised, for eating at a certain time together on a table, bound by rules and etiquettes, is a western experience passed on to the Indian population during the colonial mission. The Judge’s adherence to the rules dictated by the dining table and his insistence on following all the essential rules related to the etiquette of eating in the correct order of the courses indicate a colonial hangover (which we still haven’t found a cure to).

His treatment of people who do or do not adhere to these rules also indicates his relationship with that person. The dining table becomes a site of his relationship with people, beginning with his wife, Nimi who he detests because of her “uncivilised – Indian” mannerism. His treatment of her is forever documented by the table cloth which still carries the stain of the port wine from the time he spilled it while trying to fling the glass at her for “chewing in a way that disgusted him”.

Meanwhile, his beloved dog, Mutt, despite her status as a “kutti” in the eyes of the world, is the closest to him. This is indicated by her seat not only at the dining table, denied to various human beings like the cook, but also in a position of privilege which is right next to him, which is denied to even his family members. In fact, troublesome times emphasise the animal’s position of extreme privilege, when the dog of this upper class family eats better than the human beings of the household. The Judge bars himself and his granddaughter from eating meat (a privilege never accorded to the cook in the first place) so his dog could eat meat in a time of curfew when supplies are limited.

The last person who has the good fortune of finding a place at the dining table is Gyan, Sai’s lover and tutor. Gyan, by virtue of his education and despite him being from a lower class earns a place there, reminding the Judge of his own humble origins (a reminder that the Judge does not enjoy). Gyan’s unfamiliarity with the cutlery and the food – for which he is scorned by the Judge who is “slicing the meat expertly off the bone” – serves as a reminder of the Judge’s own experience in England during his ICS education, which alienated and humiliated him because of the lack of his English manners. His Indian lunch of puri-sabzi packed by his mother, much like his appearance and lineage, became a marker of shame for him abroad. By the time he returns, he has completely overturned this, alienating himself from his culture to such an extent that from his powdered face to his stew, everything is – or at least ardently strives to be – English, making him the butt of jokes for the English and the Indian community, as he fits into neither.

In a parody of the rules of the English dining culture and those looking to emulate it, Desai inserts an incident recalling the hunting tradition wherein the babus emulated their western contemporaries. The Judge returns to the camp empty handed after every six o’clock hunt and in a bid to preserve his respect, the cook roasts a chicken and calls it a ‘Roast Bastard’ “just as in the Englishman’s favourite book of natives using incorrect English. But sometimes, eating that roast bastard, the Judge felt the joke might also be on him. . . Kept eating as if he were eating himself, since he, too, was (was he?) part of the fun…” (Desai 63) The “roast bastard” hence becomes representative of a class of Indians which can be called the bastards of India themselves, an irony not lost upon the Judge.

Sai, his granddaughter herself inherits this sense of alienation. This is indicated in the incident at the beginning of the book where she is unable to serve the intruders Indian tea. Only English tea is made, because her convent education from Dehra Dun taught her “cake is better than laddoos”. This alienation, along with her familial connection to the Judge, is what binds them together and makes her the only family member that he does not hate for she too, is an outsider in her own country.

Finally, we have the cook who, as mentioned above, is not even thought of as being deserving of a place at the table. And it is here that we shift spaces from the dining table to the kitchen, for the kitchen encompasses every aspect of the cook’s life.

This is the place where he began working as a child under his father. The kitchen becomes a space representing the community in the book, as the cook and Sai bond over cooking, while abroad, Biju [his son] shifts from one restaurant kitchen to another like a fugitive who is, still, connected to his father in India, through the experience of serving those above them and through the same medium.

The kitchen for Biju and the cook represents the source of income, but for Biju it also represents alienation. In chapter five, while cataloguing the restaurants that Biju switches from, Desai highlights the nature of the lives of the immigrants residing abroad illegally, torn as they are from their culture and thrown in a “melting bowl” where their identity disappears under that of the majority culture:

“ …Biju at Le Colonial for the authentic colonial experience.

On top, rich colonial, and below, poor native, Colombian, Tunisian, Ecuadorian. . .

On to the Stars and Stripes Diner. All American flag on top, all Guatemalan flag below.

Plus one Indian flag when Biju arrived”

Not only is the immigrant alienated from his culture, but in a bid to keep some of his principles intact he has to choose between jobs and precepts of his culture like Biju does in the form of cooking for a steak house where he comes to terms with his work by making a “holy cow and unholy cow” distinction. Feuds like the India-Pakistan one have also been kept alive in a dingy American kitchen thousands of miles away from the countries.

The kitchen also becomes a space that differentiates between people of different classes and gender. It is acceptable for the cook to be there because of his class, but insulting for the Judge.

This kitchen also becomes a site of violence where not only the chicken “weak with anxiety” is massacred and roasted, but also unwanted housewives over “accidental” choola fires. Nimi Patel, the Judge’s wife suffers the same fate and the Judge “chooses to believe it an accident.”

Food represents nostalgia on one hand when the cook weeps for his village’s roti, and Biju complains of angrezi khaana, but on the other hand, it also is a site for the articulation of favouritism and belief in the superiority of one’s own group.

We have Lolita aka Lola arguing over the superiority of “Her Majesty’s Jam” over the American alternative with Mrs. Singh, both connected to the nations indirectly through their NRI daughters. We also have Father Booty propounding his home-made cheese in the face of a global movement of packaged cheese where he is rivaled by Amul itself. A major part of the Gorkha movement is to deny Western products like whisky. Gyan, influenced by the movement, and as a way of asserting his superiority over Sai, calls her foolish for mimicking the West by eating cheese toast, chocolate cigars and brandy-doused cake for Christmas, a festival of the West. Sai retorts by saying that he didn’t mind it when he was consuming them, i.e., when he was a part of the privileged class.

Desai in her bid to address multiple debates like Westernisation, the immigrant crisis and the refugee crisis, makes this novel timeless by virtue of its ambiguity regarding these issues. The food in the novel also addresses these issues and several more, including class, privilege, love, poverty, hybridity, colonisation, cosmopolitan identities, and so on, thereby emulating Desai’s message [as the author understands] of ambiguity which allows the reader to choose the path they prefer, indicating that there isn’t any right or wrong. They are just ideas, and one can choose whichever one they want, whether it is to eat your roti with a fork and a knife or sprinkle extra red chilli on your Cheese toast.


devika_edit4.png

Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon and featured image by Kanishka

Of Crispy Bacon and Farm Fresh Apples and Milk

Put the corn cob into the boiling water and watch the kernels turn golden. Meanwhile, put a dollop of freshly churned butter into a pan and, fry the bacon strips that you bought from the butcher down the road. Take in the buttery aroma and the sizzle of the bacon. Once crispy and red, take ‘em out of the pan, sprinkle some seasoning and shift them onto a plate. Take out the boiled corn on a cob, rub some salt, butter and lemon on it for taste and put that on the plate too. Finish your wholesome meal with a glass of fresh creamy farm milk that Bessie gave in the morning. Remember to put two cubes of manufactured sugar you bought from the market to enhance the taste. Don’t forget to put the whisky aside for the night.

With the media going crazy over the election of Trump as the new “leader of the free world”, Orwellian literature is making a return in popular culture. Various media houses allege that Orwell in his most popular works – Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), predicted our dearest, Donald Trump.

As analysts, researchers, political thinkers and even mundane and completely-isolated-from-politics-people like me, wonder about the consequence of this debacle by the superpower of the world, one of the thoughts that comes to the mind of a glutton such as yours truly, is about the food. The United States at the moment stands as the largest exporter of food products around the world. And here’s a scary afterthought that Henry Kissinger articulates well — “If you control the food supply, you control the people.” Kissinger uttered this in the 1970s in the context of USA’s bid to control the global grain-and-food market, and in 1974, in his “National Security Study Memorandum 200” report, Kissinger goes as far as speaking of the utility of targeted overseas food aid as an “instrument of national power.”

Besides helping you discover the melancholic fact that here’s another instrument of destruction and power that Trump wields, this article also asserts the accurate representation of contemporary society in Orwell’s Animal Farm. So yes, I agree that Orwell predicted this godforsaken apocalypse, but as the facts suggest, this article orients itself in a very specific way, drawing from a place of severe importance for me, that is Food, friends, Food.

What happens when a pig controls all the food supplies of a society and ultimately, controls the constituent members of that society?

In Orwell’s anti-Stalin, allegorical satire where animals have taken over the farm after banishing the humans that dared control them through a revolution brought on by the mistreatment they suffered, pigs control the post-human agrarian society, as they stand the smartest.

And smart they are, for from the very first instance of the pails of the milk vanishing for the use of the pigs just days into the revolution, to the not-so-intelligent, not-so-equal common animals being convinced into believing that they have more than enough, rather much-much more than they had under the rule of their human masters, even though they grow thinner and weaker and their new “comrades” grow fatter and pinker. (Well, doesn’t that sound familiar?)

 In the garb of democracy people are giving up rights, privileges and resources for the sake of their country and because it’s a democracy, the ‘people’ still rule, all while a certain class of animals — I meant ‘people’ — continue to enjoy that privilege. The image that Orwell paints in Animal Farm does make the pain in some sore spots, quite profound.

Apart from being a representation of the contemporary social politics surrounding food, the food as a trope in the novel is also used by Orwell to highlight multiple contrasts. The most prominent contrast, highlighted in the first paragraph itself, is that of animals versus humans.

However, aren’t we animals too? Apparently not, as Orwell chooses to show how we grew away from being animals as we developed more complex and supposedly, smarter systems of governance and then, chose to tame the rest of our fellow animals to establish ourselves as the “superior beings” much like the Pigs. They grow from animals into, “animals who are more equal than others.”

The first paragraph of the novel has Mr. Jones (human) of the Manor Farm (later called, Animal Farm until reinstated as Manor Farm) stumbling in, “ too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes,” an image that shows us his obvious, if you would allow me, “human-ness”.

Alcohol as a concoction is primarily consumed by the Homo sapiens of the animal kingdom. While other members might choose to indulge in the same from time to time and mostly, by accident, none of the other species have reported an addiction problem and most definitely, not a running consumerist-capitalist-economic system, based on the same.

Besides alcohol, Orwell introduces another “human” attribute of Mr. Jones, as he forgets to shut the pop holes. This is done, not just to show his forgetfulness (a folly most Homo Sapiens and other animals are often guilty of) but to show – as it is a Human that decides to rear, tame and control other species of the animal kingdom – the failure of his responsibility to take care of them. It is because of this failure, along with various other human reasons (as Old Major the Pig stresses) that the animals decide to revolt. Old Major, in his address to the animals before the death, highlights some key contrasts between humans and animals, and in doing so instructs the animals of the farm that in “fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him”.

Ironically, at the end of the Animal Farm, having traced the journey of how the pigs have established their “pigocracy” (as critics have remarked) and, grown more “human” as they begin to walk and consume alcohol, Orwell articulates the position of the new master in place of man thus, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”. Moreover, as history repeats itself, it is already impossible to say which is which, all over again.

In his speech accusing Man of being the tyrant, Major begins the revolutionary speech that inspires a rebellion with a poignant recap of the condition of the animals. How they are born and given only enough food to keep them alive as the rest is taken by man. How they are slaughtered with hideous cruelty and the produce of their labour is also stolen by man. In a remarkable and true assertion, Major remarks, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. He is lord of all animals.”

Hence, to inspire rebellion and not become a man (which is, as mentioned above, a mission that fails), Major forbids the animals from adopting the vices of man such as alcohol, tobacco, “touch money, or engage in trade…also, above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind.” Animals of the story engage in a revolution that becomes stale and dry which is an imagery the food itself embodies in the later parts of the book as animals eat dry grass in a cold hard winter, while Pigs enjoy whisky inside the house.

Besides being the centre of the revolution and the politics that prevail in the Animal Farm, food also, is the epicenter of everything. The major reason behind the revolution is primarily the malnourished condition of the animals, which in turn could be attributed to Mr Jones’ drinking problem. Post the success of the revolution, one of the concerns of the animals is that they might starve to death without their master as there would be no one to feed them. But Napolean, after the dismissal of Mr. Jones, takes all the animals to the store shed where he, “served out a double ration of corn to everybody with two biscuits for each dog,” thereby indicating that times were going to change.

One of the major politics attached to food is that of the politics of identity. The manner in which a person provides for their sustenance, dictates much of their self-respect, based on whether they are earning their bread and butter or being served on a silver platter or worse, are dependent on someone else for your meal and hence, your life. The animals much like many other traits and attributes of humans, represent this one too.

What pleases them most is the barley, wheat, and apples, which they grow and which belongs to them through their own labour. They are finally free of the human manacles and their stomachs are full because of their hard-earned bread. This feeling of community that earning your own bread creates among animals is thoroughly milked by the Pigs. When food runs scarce and the animals have far less than they ever had while the pigs enjoy their milk and apples and whisky, it is the portrayal of yet another divide between the classes created amongst animals through food.

The Pigs’ taking to alcohol and human food can be seen as a betrayal of the principles of the revolution and Animalism. However, this is not the first time in the book that food represents betrayal. The first question that Mollie, the white mare asks after the revolution is, “Will there still be sugar after the Rebellion?” for which she is shunned by the rest of the animals, especially the hypocritical pigs who see sugar as a form of human civility, much like the ribbons Mollie also wants. Ultimately, it is for sugar, a luxury that civilisation allows, that Mollie betrays her comrades and no one speaks of her again.

Food, hence, also represents civilisation in the book as is seen in the rumours circulating about the Animal Farm. The farm is barbarous according to the rumour that the animals in the farm practice cannibalism. At the end of the book, when Pigs clink glasses with humans and sit around the table with them as equals, “their struggles and difficulties were one.”

As a strategy for coping with the hard times that the animals are facing on the farm, Moses the raven (Ah, Orwell, you magician) preaches of a New Land called “Sugar Candy Mountain”. As the name itself indicates, the centrality of food imagery as symbolising relief and comfort is evident. The new place boasts of, “everlasting fields of clover and the linseed cake and lump sugar growing on the hedges”. As the animals themselves reasoned, their lives were, “hungry and laborious” and, the Promised Land proposed a place, however fantastical, where better lives are led.

Much like the representation of the failure of the revolution, the pigs’ “evolution into man”, replacement of one form of tyranny into another and, the power play rampant in the society – food as a trope in Animal Farm has been used constantly and continuously by Orwell to take one violent bite of the apple after another – to break the politics into pieces, either more easily digestible ones or more choke-worthy ones, depending on the reader’s perception.

Animal Farm locates human society and everything that governs it in the simplistic world of the animals and it is within this that he brings in all the complexities, one at a time such that the reader processes not just the complex nature of the problem, but also the hows and whys of its coming into being.

It is like a recipe, and we as readers understand and judge it better because we are presented with the finished product that tastes horrible post the heat of the cooking process and are taken through the recipe, step by step, from its raw form to the finished product.

While time does not allow me to elaborate on multiple other instances of brilliant food imagery that Animal Farm uses, I do urge you to make a detour to the classic and spot them for yourself. Seeing that you are a member of our cursed race and, consume and don’t produce anything besides ideas — read the book, and save yourself from becoming a pig.

God knows, we have enough of them already.


devika_edit4.png

Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Stuti Pachisia

Of Bread and Butter, Tea and Feasts

Stir in two spoonfuls of English tea leaves into the boiling hot water and watch the swirling water meet the crimson-brown of the tea leaves as they release their color and aroma into it. Strain the prepared liquid into the china teacup and stir in two teaspoonfuls of cream – three, if thou art feeling generous – and two sugar cubes, please.

Stir, and thou shalt see the creamy white mingle with the hot water as they become one while sugar crystals dissolve within the union only to be tasted when thou raises the delicate china to thy lips. It will be a storm of sensation as thy lips feel the searing heat of the tea, thy tongue tastes the creamy sweetness and thy nose is assaulted by the strong aroma.

When one talks of literature and tea parties together, the first book that comes to mind is undoubtedly — Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. From the Mad Hatter’s tea party, a parody of the Victorian dinning etiquettes, to Alice drinking or eating anything labeled “DRINK ME”, a reflection of the rampant adultery of food at the time, Carroll’s Alice books are full of food references, each carrying a deeper meaning. However, in this piece, though I shall pay a visit to Alice for a cup of tea, it shan’t be by falling through the rabbit hole, but instead through the manner of stepping through the looking glass to visit an old friend who is older, and definitely, more mature.

This maturity is also reflected in the various food references that Carroll makes in the less popular sequel to Alice’s adventure i.e., Through the Looking Glass.

To begin from the first chapter itself, which carries various references to food that convey the changes in our protagonist’s life, we find Alice holding the disgraced Kitty (black kitten) up and, threatening to punish it. Her punishment and the very manner of her assuming authority is a reflection of her own life where she is punished by her Governess. The first punishment that strikes her is to “go without dinner” and what more, since the punishments are being saved up for the end of the year – it would mean going without fifty dinners!

Another thing that is of concern is her reaction to her imagined punishment, “I shouldn’t mind that much! I’d far rather go without them than eat them!”

The above incident indicates a lot to the reader. The idea of punishment has entered the mental arena of young Alice, which indicates that she now knows the distinction between what is an acceptable activity and what is not, and what will, or will not, lead to disgrace or punishment by the authority above her. Hence, she applies the same to the authority below her, which is the animals, since no one in the social power structure— as is the belief—is below a seven-year-old besides animals, a statement made by Carroll which he overturns by making her queen later in the book.

Now, according to Victorian convention for the upper and the upper middle class, dinner was one of the only times of the day when children could socialise with their parents. They had to adhere to the strict behavioral code of conduct and propriety during the meal and, for the rest of the day they were mostly accompanied or taught by their governess or their nannies. Therefore, Alice’s indifference to dinner, on one hand, could indicate her class, for only a spoiled child who had enough food to waste could dismiss it, especially in an age where food was scarce due to population explosion. But on the other hand, it might also indicate her indifference towards, and dismissal of, her family or her parents, for, due to conventions and mostly Victorian attitudes towards children and childhood, she has hardly had any contact with them, and sees them as unimportant, thereby dismissing their presence, which is anyway bestowed on her only during dinner time.

Talking about indifference, we move to the next instance, wherein Alice is thirsty and tired after a run for maintaining the status quo, and is offered a biscuit that is very dry which ends up almost choking her. Quite clearly, even as Alice keeps repeating that she doesn’t want the biscuit, this reflects the larger scene in life— one is hardly given what one wants or in this case even needs, in life.

Alice, in order to appear “civil” accepts the biscuit and, it could be an indication from Lewis’s side (quite fond of parodying Victorian mores), that following the strict civil code of conduct might leave one very dry and uninteresting, but also, could end up choking literally, in this case, their desires and wants, as one is unable to express them – which is what happens in Alice’s case.

Choking leads us to death, which in turn leads us to Alice’s meeting with the Looking Glass Insects who, as mentioned above, also display Lewis’s dislike for conventions and rules. Hence, their inversion or parodying, as happens in this case. The insects look like their names— butterfly is bread-and-butter-fly, “Its wings are thin slices of bread and butter, its body is a crust and its head is a lump of sugar”. It lives on “weak tea with cream” and dies without them. Alice reflects, “that must happen very often” and the gnat replies, “It always happens”.

Carroll through the simple metaphor of food conveys a number of things, and the first amongst these is death. Our protagonist is now old enough to face the reality of life, in the form of facing death and the harsh truth that “it always happens”. The bread-and-butter fly becomes a metaphor for the lower classes, who crawl at the feet of the affluent classes (as the fly does with Alice) looking for their sustenance, and die without it.

Victorian England was also, an age of malnutrition. Death therefore, was common due to population explosion and, while the affluent had as much as they wanted, the poor had to live an impoverished life.

Weak tea indicates that very kind that the poor would take, as enough leaves for a strong one could not be afforded. Bread-and-butter was considered the meal of the poorest of the poor, as they could not afford meat, only bread. The White Queen constantly murmurs “bread and butter, bread and butter” and, the Red Queen’s statement on her remains, “She never was really well brought up…poor thing!”

Though “poor” here is meant for pity, and not “well-brought up” as in the Victorian times was a clear cut offensive statement about one’s class, the White Queen seems to fit in the said category due to a lot of reasons: her untidy, unruly dressing style, her food choice and of course, the Red Queen’s remark.

“Bread and butter” in this case, might hold another significance i.e., to earn one’s bread and butter is to earn one’s living and hence, the White Queen’s obsession with murmuring “Bread and butter” reflects the consumerist society that Victorian England became, especially in the case of someone with power.

Another instance of this is the poem recited by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, in which the Walrus and the carpenter lead the young oysters away and eat them. Consumerism, Industrialisation and, development led to Urbanization during the Nineteenth Century. The movement of the Oysters from their sea bed i.e., their home, to wherever they are led by the Walrus and the Carpenter reflects the movement of the rural population to urban areas led by the dreams and fantasy that the urban developers led them to believe in.

This fantasy on a larger level also indicates the larger fantasy and dream Alice herself is buying into, much like we as readers do when we buy fiction. The very act of buying a fiction novel is consumerism as stories and ideas themselves have a cost, as many scenes in the book indicate when each word costs a certain sum.

The movement of the Oysters with the Carpenter and the Walrus shows us the fantasy that most of the rural folks bought into. The Urban Classes leached them of their hard work and consumed their very beings in return for meager wages, and this is pointed to in the literal consumption of the oysters by the Carpenter and the Walrus.

The discussion that Alice has with the twins post the recital of the poem is also very interesting. She cannot tell who she likes better— the Walrus because he was guilty (yet he ate more as Tweedledee mentions) or, the Carpenter who ate as much as possible, if not as much as the Walrus (as Tweedledum mentions). This is not just a reflection of blurred lines between good and bad, but is also a likeness of the Upper consumer class who are the ones consuming most of the hard work of the poor. Consuming here also stands for exploitation, which in the Oysters’ case comes in the form of the betrayal of the Oysters’ trust.

Before concluding, it is essential for me to address the final scene of Alice’s feast, which many critics see as a reflection of the tea party from the previous book, but in my opinion, though there are similar elements, a lot has changed, and the most prominent of them is that Alice is the hostess, the queen so to speak, instead of the uninvited guest as in the previous party.

Her reaction “Where is the servant who is supposed to answer the door” shows her growth as a person who realizes the power structures and, the delegation of responsibilities. Her subjects and her fellow queens drink to welcome her. They place her in a position of honour and respect, unlike the previous book’s tea party. Alice’s contemplation about how she wouldn’t know whom to invite indicates an ingrained Victorian etiquette that taught young girls everything from guest list designing, to the making of the dishes.

One can read biography into her introduction to the leg of mutton as Brinda Bose mentions – “King James I ‘knighted’ a loin or mutton at the table of Carroll’s ancestor”. One can also read Alice’s discovery of her own power and strength into the instance when she asks the pudding to be brought back, hence going against a figure of authority – in this case, the Red Queen, who many critics have said represents the governess – by realizing that she too, has power. The cutting of a slice from the introduced pudding on one hand might indicate personification of an inanimate object post-which it becomes difficult to start, and on the other hand it might show the anguish of the consumed object, representative of the poor or even animals who are eaten. Finally, it points to how Alice learns the manner of using her power and how far she can go with it, because there will come a time when the oppressed or the dominated will speak up – in this case, the pudding, which does speak up.

The way Alice judges her guest’s eating and drinking manners, “just like pigs in a trough” shows the parodying of the toast etiquette by Carrol and, an ingrained etiquette code in young Alice who knows the right from the wrong.

The ending of the feast when all hell breaks loose and Alice herself pulls the tablecloth and shouts “I can’t take this anymore!” in the eyes of a Victorian audience would, even today, be a nightmare for any host, indicating a failure. When she screams, one may ask whether “this” is a reference to the madness of her party or the parodying of the Victorian etiquette or, even the Victorian etiquette itself? But Carroll leaves this riddle unanswered like many others littered across his books. But I would have to say that this is a rare case of fantasy hiding behind reality as Alice wakes up, instead of reality hiding behind fantasy, which is the usual case. But I guess, when fantasy starts reflecting a darker and, a more twisted version of reality, it is reality that we return to, so as to create an alternate version.

Through the Looking Glass is replete with such food references that hold a deeper and a darker political-societal meaning, but the word constraint wouldn’t allow you another morsel today.

This doesn’t mean you have to go hungry! You could return to the book and try spotting some of these instances for yourself – that is, of course, until I prepare for you another one of my dishes.

Until then, don’t forget to enjoy whatever you consume.


devika_edit4.pngMorsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain

Of Hamburgers and Pizzas to be consumed with Friends

The crispy bun glistening with melting butter that sits atop the patty, barbecued to perfection, and glazed with just the right amount of marinade, completed with three layers of melting cheese, crispy-fresh tomato and lettuce with a crunchy bottom bun on which this magnificence sits as if atop a pedestal, complemented with zingy mustard and tangy ketchup with chilled creamy choklit shop soda to wash it all down with.

Even though it was mentioned earlier that there wouldn’t be any more of this, yours truly realised the importance of an appropriate invocation as a literature student. Hence, the above beauty is not only an invocation to the food gods to whom I sacrifice the first bite of my Hamburger (Nah), but also an invocation to you, oh! Blessed Reader, who I wish, never goes unsatisfied after a meal. This is to tantalize and invoke your taste buds, your imagination and an interest in the ‘form’ that will be addressed today: Comics.

If you too belong to a typical Indian household that looks down upon comics as a waste of time and compares comic book-language to the grandeur of ze novel to the detriment of the former, then, you like a typical Indian child must have also developed a guilty pleasure for the same, much like thy secret midnight rendezvous with chocolate cake.

Now, I would like to clarify the difference between a comic and a graphic novel at the very onset of this piece. A graphic novel is, well, a novel but with pictures and illustrations. A comic, on the other hand, is an illustrated story but in the form of a periodical. They might be produced with a specific time gap and, usually (not always) have connections between the actions of one issue and the next.

Graphic novels are misconstrued as a “finer” version of comics to which Neil Gaiman wrote:

I felt like someone who’d been informed that she was not actually a hooker, she was a lady of the evening. (telegraph.co.uk 2009)

Having clarified that, here’s why I feel Comics deserve a place in Literature. Besides the obvious fact that they deal with words (duh), ideas, concepts, and stories or anecdotes, Comics mistakenly have been seen as a Genre rather than the medium that they are (telegraph.co.uk, 2009).

A medium that might include a rainbow of genres like romance, history, comedy and so on and so forth, much like all other mediums in Literature. However, I stray from my path when I assume the role of a defender of the comics when my job, clearly, is to analyze the trope of food in this medium of literature, much like any other.

If it’s not clear from the food described in my invocation, the comic series I will be looking at today is Archie, Comic Publications, Inc., or alternatively, Archies. The reason I went for these is not nostalgia, emotion or my love for Forsythe Jones but another argument that redeems Comics as a medium. While Novels are set, and hence fixed in the particular time and space they occupy, Comics I would say, are more fluid in nature. They evolve as time passes, as the story is constantly high-end, especially in the case of Archies. Another argument would be that because the story is being worked on and is constantly evolving based on the so-called “real life” and context it borrows from, it alters based on the changes that take place in reality. Thus, Comics become progressive and evolutionary in nature.

A classic example can be taken from Archies which was first published on 22nd December 1942.  John Goldwater wanted the comic to be a story about a normal relatable person. In this endeavour to be “relatable” he created a character that to this day embodies characteristics of “present” day America, while simultaneously retaining seventy- seven years of the history of the USA as his story. Archie is relatable to the present and the past.

From World War II, when he represented the youth of the country engaged in hard work and its evolving culture, to present day, when the Archie comics embody issues of LGBTQ rights (the recently introduced Kevin Keller), and Feminism, Archie never aged beyond his teen years. It was his story that did, and even now, it continues to put on a new skin with each era it bears witness to.

This passage of time is very clear in the food culture of the said series too. A series that began with the humble cuisine of war, representing the reality of keeping wastage and extravagance to a minimum, has evolved today to the fine cuisine culture of massive consumption.  The “type” of food consumed by the characters shows this too. While sandwiches and punch remains a staple, we go from ice-cream sodas to Choklit Shoppe to Teriyaki Mushrooms and the USA cuisine by Gaston to Pizza Culture. Pizza entered popular culture in the USA during the 1940s and it was at this time, when it began sprouting around the country from 1945-1960, that it also appeared as a staple of the gang, never to leave again. As America recovered from the war and a celebratory, indulgent decade followed, Jughead Jones, the glutton, was born.

Before I move on to characters and their relations to food, I must mention why Pizza was and is still such a staple of the gang in the Archies, even though Pop sells mostly Burgers. As many historians have noted, Pizza unlike popular American food like Hot dogs and hamburgers is a communal food and hence, inserting it into the comics and American History shows a coming together of the community.

This coming together hence also reflects a key trait in Jughead, clearly distinguishing him as an individualist and a glutton through instances like him never sharing his pizza (except when required, like for charity, which casts him in a positive light for the readers) and being capable of eating twenty-five pizzas alone (in a competitive eating event).

Forsythe P. Jughead Jones III is best recognised by his insatiable appetite and interesting choice of headwear. (archiecomics.com)

He first appeared in Pep Comics #22, 1941 as Archie’s close friend and, his voracious appetite soon followed in later issues (mostly post-war). He is capable of eating superhuman amounts of food in one sitting, and the interesting part is – he never gains a pound!

While some have attributed this to his metabolism, others have attributed it to the fact that it is his brain working at a better speed that burns the calories. If it’s his metabolism that we are attributing it to (In a comic, he exchanges his metabolism for the best pizza in the world, which indicates that the authors agree with the metabolism viewpoint), then it hints towards a trait that pertains to not just Jughead, but society as a whole – the trait of having rampant desire, the lust to “consume” everything in sight and yet, not having to face any consequences. This particular argument translates to no-reins Capitalism and commoditisation that American Society embodies too.

The irony lies in the fact that, just like Jughead, American Society has to face the consequences of their “consumption”. Jughead is constantly drowning under the debt of his tab that he runs up at various eateries. It wouldn’t be too far flung a statement to make that American Society too, is drowning under a similar kind of weight.

Moving on to another argument of his mental capabilities, it is a widely agreed fact that Jughead indeed, is a very intelligent person who if required can perform miracles, but rarely does, until it is absolutely required. The one and only time his “superior” senses kick in are when he is avoiding girls or foraging for food. If we look at it from an evolutionary perspective, looking for food and, escaping predators is a massive part of our evolutionary history. Life for our ancestors and us is about sustenance – the struggle to survive in this world. Those who could forage for food better and fight off external intrusions the best i.e., could protect themselves, survived, and thereby, were recognized as belonging to the superior strata of human beings. This automatically puts Jughead Jones in the more advanced category of the human race.

This finally brings us to the topic of the female population in the series and their relation to food. Just like other aspects of the comic have been affected by the temporal space they have been set in, so has the comic’s approach to dealing with the women in the series changed. The females have come a long way from being just the love interests and men’s potential dates to today having a mind and opinion of their own (clearly showcased in the many series which are now “Betty and Veronica” and not Archies). From embodying the sweet girl-next-door who loves cooking and is perfect wife-material for your best friend, the female characters have evolved into girls who can be basketball players and scientists. Gender roles did undergo a change in the society and hence, the comics.

Food as a trope of course, was recurrent in this case too. A woman who could cook was the ideal choice for a man to marry. Hence Betty Cooper, the original love interest of Archie was, and still is, one of the better cooks of the series – the perfect girl who bakes cakes and cookies for the men in the series to consume. Veronica Lodge, on the other hand, is one of the worst cooks out there, but then again, who needs to learn cooking if your father’s money can hire the best cook out there for you? The choice of food and, the ability to cook food, hence distinguishes between the girls’ class and financial status.

The class is also indicated in the type of food the girls are happy consuming. While Betty is fine with a simple lunch at home, Veronica prefers high-end restaurants for dates. When Veronica deigns to cook with her very own hands, she falls into the realm of the “common man” who has to sweat in front of the stove, as she herself mentions.

Jughead has always shown a preference for Betty over Veronica, with whom he has a love-hate relationship. His hate for Veronica sprouts from his dislike of her snooty aristocratic habits, while his love for Betty, though mostly attributed to Betty’s sweet nature, is also because the latter cooks for him. This makes one wonder about the larger argument of misogyny that Jughead might embody. The only time he spends time with the girls is when Ethel (his pursuer) promises food to him or, when Betty cooks for him or, Veronica makes Gaston cook for him. This could be a larger statement about how he likes his women relegated to the realm of the kitchen or the domestic sphere where they can serve him in one way or another. When they try to cross these boundaries (like Veronica does by asserting her power through wealth over him) i.e., escape the bounds he sets for them (literally, in Ethel’s case when he locks her in the kitchen and, refuses to let her out till she promises him food), he makes his dislike clear.

The misogyny through food is also displayed in the manner food is consumed by women. Women were expected to eat daintily and delicately, and in small amounts, to control their figures – body issues being quite prevalent in the comic series with the notion of “dieting” for women. We know times have changed now that they have introduced love interests like Debbie and Joani, who are just as passionate about eating as him, and female competitors in eating contests make an appearance too.

However, I do concede that I do not consider Jughead a misogynist because firstly, there is a deliberate softening in his nature towards women as the story progresses, and secondly, he embodies the type of society he is part of at a particular point in time and so cannot be blamed for his views on the subject.

Having said that, there are so many characters like dear ole’ Hotdog (the dog) and Moose, with debates, arguments and, seventy-seven freaking years’ worth of stuff to be analysed through the trope of food which links the comics to American Society. I could go on and on, probably as long as my foodie wish list (No, not really) yet time, space and, attention constraints do not allow it,

So, until next time – don’t forget to enjoy what you consume, be it literature or food.


devika_edit4.png

Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain

Of Ice Lollies and Birthday Cakes

As you keep stirring the thick creamy sauce, complete with the golden trio of cheeses – Gouda, Cheddar and Blue – thick foam will rise as a heavenly aroma rich with the scent of aged cheese mixed harmoniously with butter and cream transports you to your happy place. Serve it with crisp farmer’s bread and you have a meal.

There won’t be any more of that, unfortunately. This piece of writing does not talk about the number of times you should whip your cream for the perfect creme brûlée or how to make a baklava. If that is the kind of thing that piques your interest, I highly recommend Nigella Lawson’s recent cookbook on Desserts.

However, if you are curious instead about the implication of a character taking two sips of their drink and not one, the power structure that the number of people sitting around a dining table alludes to, or the significance of each meal that an author describes or chooses not to, I invite you to read on. So if you want to know why at the end of each successful mystery-solving Holmes sits down for a good meal, or the theory behind the importance of each feast that Rowling ever wrote of in her legendary Harry Potter series, then I congratulate you for being in the right place.

To begin with, one of the most underrated tropes in the field of literature is food. All food-related activity (eating, cooking or dining) has often been dismissed as having merely a decorative or nominal function in writing. Much of this can be attributed to patriarchy circumscribing cooking or indeed, anything concerning food, within the realm of the domestic, hence terming it ‘weak’ or ‘simple’ and thus meant mostly for women (the “make me a sandwich” meme?) Recently, however, its significance has started coming to light. The credit goes to the consumerist denizens of the 21st-century society and media – the power of 434.5 hours of cookery shows a week!

That aside, food gains relevance in a piece of writing depending on the manner in which a writer chooses to use it. Whether it is as a theme, a literary device or even an analogy, writers have time and again used food-related imagery, meals, dining experiences and situations to give a subtle or maybe not-so-subtle hint towards issues such as depression, power, sexuality, adultery, feminism or the economy.

In JK Rowling’s third book in the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), the Christmas feast becomes the symbol of a death that Rowling will enact in the sixth book.

“I dare not, Headmaster! If I join the table, we shall be thirteen! Nothing could be more unlucky! Never forget that when thirteen dine together, the first to rise will be the first to die!”
—Sybill Trelawney (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

On Christmas Day, 1993, Sybill Trelawney, professor of Divination at Hogwarts, joined several of her pupils and fellow teachers for Christmas dinner in the castle’s Great Hall. She was fearful upon noticing that twelve people were dining in the hall, believing that were she to sit down, the first of the thirteen seated to rise would be the first to die. However, if Peter Pettigrew, transfigured into Scabbers, is counted as a person, there were thirteen people before Trelawney arrived. Since Dumbledore was the one to rise from his seat to greet Professor Trelawney, and assuming Derek and two other unnamed students did not die before Dumbledore’s death in 1997, Professor Trelawney’s prediction was correct.

Another time the ‘Death and Dining’ trope was built on was in the case of Sirius Black, when in 1995 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), he rose from a table seating thirteen people in the Order. Black became the first among them to die.

The above instances show a cleverly-used technique of combining the common act of dining with the sinister theme of death, while also exemplifying Rowling’s vision in terms of the prophecies hidden across her books – a device which intensifies and enlivens our acts of reading and thinking.

Rowling in an interview with Telegraph mentioned how her books were mostly about “death” (Telegraph, 2006). This, in particular, holds significance because she was able to hide a symbol of the same even in the dining scenes.

Though I do not wish to make the overarching statement that food in Rowling’s series mostly has darker undertones, it remains true that some of the most sinister themes are definitely portrayed via the trope of food.

A leitmotif across the series is the Dursleys’ cruelty towards Harry, until it is resolved in the later books. The interesting observation to make here is that the most common medium this cruelty is enacted through is, well, food. Rowling makes the reader empathize with Harry and builds his history with the Dursleys into an object of pity through several instances related to the same.

The thin, lanky boy who is denied candy while his fat cousin gets it at the drop of a hat does generate a “poor Harry” image that makes him more likeable for the readers. The first book (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) carries a lot of instances emphasizing this.

During the visit to the zoo –

“The Dursleys bought Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice creams at the entrance and then, because the smiling lady in the van had asked Harry what he wanted before they could hurry him away, they bought him a cheap lemon ice pop. It wasn’t bad, either, Harry thought.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

In creating polar opposites in the forms of Harry and Dudley, wherein Harry is satisfied by the bare minimum, while Dudley is not satisfied by even the best, the reader is naturally led into sympathizing with the protagonist.

These occasions of cruelty are themselves contrasted by Rowling with the feasts at Hogwarts. One common reason for Hogwarts or even the Burrow being “home” is because these are places where Harry always gets the warm, drowsy feeling of having a full stomach.

“He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Finally, the very first instance in the series (and Harry’s life itself) when he finally gets what he deserves is showcased by the moment of his receiving his first birthday cake from Hagrid, which comes with his ticket to Hogwarts.

“From an inside pocket of his black overcoat he pulled a slightly squashed box. Harry opened it with trembling fingers. Inside was a large, sticky chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Harry written on it in green icing.” (Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone)

The “birthday” cake symbolizes not only a new year in Harry’s life but a new beginning and renewed hope. It showcases love and warmth (something Harry is not privy to), for this is his first complete meal, something he can have for himself without having to share, and of course, it is the symbol of Hogwarts and magic itself, coming as it does from the Gatekeeper of the castle and at the stroke of midnight just as he turns eleven – just when he had lost all hope.

Having given one of the million occurrences when there was more to tea leaves than what just remains on the bottom of the cup or the hidden surprise in the bite-sized chocolate, I would like to casually conclude with a food analogy by quoting the age-old phrase that incites dread or (more hopefully) happiness in the consumer of food or a piece of writing – “There is more where that came from.”

 


devika_edit4.pngMorsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain