10 Weird Foodie Moments in Literature and What We Learned From Them

Food is a great and glorious thing, and it often does great and glorious things in the stories we read. When Charlie finds that golden chocolate-dusted ticket, when Marcel takes the first bite of the madeleine cookie, when Toad smells that warm, buttered toast — all these are moments in literature in which food has stepped in and has moved us, has made us feel something affirming.

Of course, food’s presence in literature is not all candy bars and fancy French cookies. Food appears constantly in the books we read, but its presence serves many purposes beyond those of inspiration and nostalgia. As eaters, we ourselves learn important lessons from our experiences with food (that, like, it turns out you shouldn’t eat an entire jar of peanut butter in one sitting), but we also learn important lessons from our favorite characters’ experiences with food. When Alice drinks the vials labeled ‘DRINK ME’ we’re all sitting at home, turning the pages furiously, and shouting: “Don’t do it!” Of course, she does it anyway, and we’re so frustrated with her for it, but maybe we reference her indiscretion (and its repercussions) the next time we’re at that work party where there’s an open bar. You know what I'm talking about. I like free wine too.

Read on for ten truly weird food moments in literature — and discover what we can learn from them.

Image: Fotolia

by Emily Mack

‘Titus Andronicus’ by William Shakespeare

Tamora crosses Titus, so Titus kills her sons, bakes them into pies, and serves them to her at a dinner party. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with sociopaths.

Why, there they are both, baked in that pie; / Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, / Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred. / ‘Tis true, ‘tis true; witness my knife’s sharp point.

‘Goblin Market’ by Christina Rosetti

Lizzie is so hard-up for the fruit from the goblins’ market that, after her sister narrowly escapes an episode of fruit-chucking warfare, Lizzie hungrily slurps the pulp off of her clothes. Which is pretty weird, and actually not very considerate. I think it’s safe to say that the “Don’t take candy from strangers” adage is pretty in play here.

Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you, / Goblin pulp and goblin dew. / Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me; / For your sake I have braved the glen / And had to do with goblin merchant men.

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is basically the Se7en of children’s books. Augustus Gloop teaches us not to be a glutton.

“Now listen to me!” said Mr. Wonka, looking down at the tiny man. “I want you to take Mr. and Mrs. Gloop up to the Fudge Room and help them to find their son, Augustus. He’s just gone up the pipe.”

‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens

After Miss Havisham is defrauded and left at the altar by Mr. Compeyson, she assumes the life of a lonely recluse, forever dressed in her wedding gown and with her very spooky wedding cake spread out on her kitchen table. What’s the take-away here? He’s just not that into you.

The most prominent object was a table with a long tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks stopped all together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite indistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies run home to it, and running out from it.

‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift

In his satirical essay from 1729, Swift suggests the eating of one’s own children as a possible solution to starvation and economic turmoil in Ireland. In response, everybody in Ireland freaked the hell out. Lesson here: Not everybody gets your sarcasm.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust.

‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ by Thomas Hardy

While in Casterbridge, Michael Henchard gets a little tipsy on some rum-laced furmity and ends up selling his wife and daughter in auction. Whoops. Lesson learned: Maybe next time, skip the furmity and just get a divorce like everybody else.

After a mincing attack on his bowl, he watched the hag’s proceedings from the corner of his eye, and saw the game she played. He winked to her, and passed up his basin in reply to her nod; when she took a bottle from under the table, slily measured out a quantity of its contents, and tipped the same into the man’s furmity. The liquor poured in was rum.

‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon

After Ruth’s husband Bobbo leaves her for the rich and famous novelist Mary Fisher, she embarks upon a rampage of revenge. Her enthusiasm for Mary Fisher’s possible exposure to botulism is only just the beginning here — Ruth burns down her house, fakes her own death, and schemes to have Bobbo put in jail. Ruth teaches us that it’s never too late to see a therapist.

Mary Fisher, I hope that tonight you are eating canned red salmon and the can has spoiled and you get botulin poisoning. But such hope is in vain. Mary Fisher eats fresh salmon, and in any case her delicate palate could be trusted to detect poison, no matter how undetectable it might be in other, cruder mouths. How delicately, how swiftly she would spit the erring mouthful out and save herself!

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Caroll

Alice is a mess. She’s fallen down a rabbit hole, she’s nearly drowned in an actual river of her own tears, and she’s consumed a bevy of precariously labeled beverages and snacks. What’s a girl to do? Keep drinking, I guess. Which doesn’t go so well. Surprisingly. Hey, Alice – next time, know your limit.

…her eye fell upon a little bottle that stood near the looking- glass. There was no label this time with the words DRINK ME,’ but nevertheless she uncorked it and put it to her lips. ‘I know something interesting is sure to happen,’ she said to herself, ‘whenever I eat or drink anything; so I’ll just see what this bottle does. I do hope it’ll make me grow large again, for really I’m quite tired of being such a tiny little thing!’ It did so indeed, and much sooner than she had expected: before she had drunk half the bottle, she found her head pressing against the ceiling, and had to stoop to save her neck from being broken.

‘Hansel and Gretel’ by The Brothers Grimm

Hansel and Gretel are hungry and walking through the woods when they encounter a house made of candy. (Totally normal.) They decide that eating the house is a good idea since whoever lives inside of it probably doesn’t need it anyway. Or something like that. Next time, kids, pack a snack. Always be prepared.

They began to walk again, but they always came deeper into the forest, and if help did not come soon, they must die of hunger and weariness… And when they approached the little house they saw that it was built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear sugar. “We will set to work on that,” said Hansel, “and have a good meal. I will eat a bit of the roof, and you, Gretel, can eat some of the window. It will taste sweet.”

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'Love in the Time of Cholera' by Gabriel García Márquez

Fermina Daza is in love with the passionate Florentino Ariza, but she is forced to marry Juvenal Urbino, who is apparently very into asparagus-scented urine. Like most things about him, Fermina finds this quirk to be, well… not so lovable, and she is unable to prepare his dinner with anything but resentment and vexation. Lesson learned: Cook with love, and cook for the ones you love.

If anything vexed her, it was the perpetual chain of daily meals. For they not only had to be served on time: they had to be perfect, and they had to be just what he wanted to eat, without his having to be asked…Even when it was not the season for asparagus, it had to be found regardless of cost, so that he could take pleasure in the vapors of his own fragrant urine. She did not blame him: she blamed life. But he was an implacable protagonist in that life. At the mere hint of a doubt, he would push aside his plate and say: ‘This meal has been prepared without love.’