Food is such an intrinsic part of our daily lives that it's not surprising it features in many stories. When you think about it, the food we eat says a lot about us - it can hint at nationality, wealth, personality and mood. It can suggest time of day or time of year. Moreover, we have several common expressions associated with food such as "to be a good/bad egg" or "to bring home the bacon." And we make connections in other ways - apples, for example, are associated with doctors (or keeping them away), teachers, the Garden of Eden (forbidden fruit), eyes (apple of my eye) etc. So there are a wealth of things for a writer to play with when it comes to food.
I've waffled on before about the importance of the senses in good writing. Adding touch, taste, smell and sound to sight can add layers to a story and help evoke the setting. Food can give us all of that in one go. Obviously, we all eat it. But there is so much material to explore in the process of food being grown, bought or cooked. And the variety and combinations of food across the globe are endless.
The six pieces I've picked out this month all use food in the telling of their stories. They are so full of flavour that you'll probably find your stomach grumbling by the time you get to the end. And there is so much to love in each of them that you can go back for second (or third or forth) helpings and find new things you didn't spot on the first read through. As always, read and enjoy!
KM Elkes | Reflex Fiction
There is so much packed into this piece just like the sandwich at the narrative's heart. I love the use of unexpected language in here - "a fat turd of ground meat", "fried the colour of night". I love the tonal contrast of the italicised recipe in the middle of the piece and the little splashes of humour - "the extractor fan, extracting" - which are so important for maintaining the superficial lightness of the writing whilst a much more emotionally charged story lies underneath. I always like it when writers leave clever hints at the beginning of a piece without giving too much away and in the first paragraph, I found myself immediately wondering about the importance of the mother leaning on the counter or the "high shriek of the extractor fan." The implication halfway through that the father blames the boy for the mother's sadness comes at you like a punch to the gut. But this is expertly balanced by the mother's continuing love and the boy sweetly accepting the inedible sandwich to save his mother's feelings.
Amanda Bales | New South Journal
For me, it's important that writing about food engages a reader's sense. I want to taste the food, to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it. And what I love in this piece is that all the senses are catered for. The verb choices in the first sentence is brilliantly evocative - three S's that are onomatopoeic, that show relish and that bring the taste and texture of the food to life. In contrast, other women "peck and preen", verb choices that are bird-like rather than the animalistic "suck", "slurp" and "swill." Just like in the story above, there is a lot going on under the surface of the narrative here. Beneath the sumptuous descriptions of "fat back turnip greens, cobbler skillet baked and dripping fresh cream", there is a sadness and also a defiance. And with the introduction of the sister (beaten when "she gets mouthy"), there is a suggestion that the food is not just food but a metaphor for speech and actions and other freedoms undermined by society's gender inequalities.
Faye Brinsmead | MoonPark Review
Food can make a wonderful backbone to a story. Here we start with an imagined scene of a brother eating "sausages and mash" whilst devouring the contents of a couple of brilliantly tongue-in-cheek made-up book titles. I love how he "chews the words" at the same time as "the greasy meat, the blue-tinged potato." And I also love how playful the language is throughout this piece. There are too many highlights to list here but "red skid marks of tomato sauce" and "evasive as an octopus" are inspired. Dreams of penny farthings and Pink Panther wetsuits seamlessly give way to a heart-wrenching paragraph about bullying, tormented even by his four siblings until he flees the house. And in the pivotal moments, the theme of food comes back - the ordinary-ness of "roast chicken and vegetables, chocolate cake"; even the porcelain Mrs Potts has "hard-boiled egg eyes."
Hope Henderson | Lost Balloon
How many of us at the supermarket check-out have glanced at what the shoppers in front of us are buying and made snap judgements? That is the premise for this wonderful micro. I've said it before but the shorter the piece, the more each word counts. Yet, here, there is time to revel in the "green and sugar scent" of "an ear of fresh corn", "a plastic envelope of prosciutto". When writing, the ordering of ideas (or objects) can be so important and I love how each bundle of shopping moves from enticing ("a fresh roll from the bakery") to something sad and depressing (a cookie that is "round and pock-marked, a cellophane-wrapped moon"). And loneliness is at the heart of the message in this piece, hints of emotional as well as monetary poverty. The ending shaped around an avocado is brilliantly full of longing and I love how we are left on an em dash as if we are invited to continue the daydream for ourselves.
Steven John | Spelk
When I read a piece of flash fiction, I'm always looking for hidden layers and, often, this can be found in seemingly innocuous objects. The girl in this story has hair "streaked with toffee brown" which paints a beautiful picture but also suggests a glint of personality. When the fruit machine lands on three cherries, there is the implication of innocence or a loss of innocence. The girl "smells of vanilla ice-cream and seaweed" - vanilla is apparently a common ingredient of love potions and the combination with ice-cream (which again feels innocent) and seaweed (which, for me, conjures ocean freshness) seems to hit just the right note for the story which unfolds. I love the way that food has been used throughout this piece. The contrast between the chips of the two protagonists and the "cheese rolls and strawberries" of the "families on their tartan rugs" is lovely. And the "salt and vinegar tongues" of the title brilliantly evoke the emotions in the story's denouement.
Lior Torenberg | Milk Candy Review
Food is such an important part of our lives and culture, and I really like how this piece plays on that. The food literally drips through the narrative. It infuses the story and forms a central part of the mother's character. I look at the food choices and see hidden meaning there - the upside-down cake representing the mother's suppressed French-ness; how she wraps herself in a kitchen which is "a monument to the all-American apple pie." There's a clever touch of humour in the mother's lingering accent and a nicely observed moment as the mother relearns her French on her deathbed in "a brief moment of delirium." And as the narrator searches for her mother and becomes her own version of Margaux, I love how all the thematic details - slim ankles, a rainbow of nude hues and, of course, the food - are revisited and contorted.
If you've enjoyed this month's selection of surprising, delightful stories by Amanda, Faye, Hope, KM, Lior and Steven, please let them know on Twitter...
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