Food is perhaps one of the strongest cultural signifiers we have. It’s the way we connect with each other through traditions and celebrations and often it’s also the way we meet a different culture – through eating their food. It says so much about who we are and where we come from that I don’t think anything else really can compare. You don’t have to speak the language or even really know much about the culture to enjoy a dish, though it certainly helps if you know how to eat it (more on this later, I have so many feelings about surströmming).
And yet, despite this food doesn’t seem to get all that much room in fantasy or sci-fi media, especially in the West. AngrygirLcomics did a good thread about that on twitter the other day in a more general context, but I got stuck on the food most of all. Part of this is probably because I’ve been getting into Terrace House again and even then, in a reality show that has nothing to do with food, there are frequent and long glamour shots of whatever they’re eating.
Food is so important when it comes to setting a scene or showing off culture in Japanese media, so why isn’t it important here? Why don’t we see lovingly rendered animations of people eating spaghetti puttanesca or comics about cooking so detailed you can actually use them as recipes?
This goes double for fantasy or sci-fi settings, where you have the opportunity to show the very backbone of a whole world – what are they eating? What’re the staple foods? What are they growing around here, or hunting, or gathering – are they vegetarians? Or have they experienced great times of famine, creating a cuisine based on heavy carbs and tough cuts of meat? What about space people? Can they grow potatoes on Mars or are they stuck on meal replacement shakes like Soylent? What does that do to the culture?