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Why Do Fantasy Novels Have So Much Food? (atlasobscura.com)
104 points by Thevet 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments

As a fantasy author, I am constantly looking for ways to provide description that engages all five senses. In most fiction, the vast majority of description is focused on what characters see, but if you really want to place the reader in a setting, it needs to feel tactile. When a character walks into a boggy marsh, I don't just want to describe the tepid pools of water; I want to describe the pungent stench of rotting wood, and the texture of the soggy ground underfoot. It's one thing for a character to remark on how hot and humid it is; it's another to describe the feeling of the wet, vaporous air as beads of water are condensing on your skin and coalescing with your sweat.

Food is great at engaging all five senses. Not only is it one of the few places where you get to talk about taste, but food gives off aromas. Eating food is a tactile experience: you can feel the stickiness of a sweet jelly as you lick it off your fingers. Food has a texture that you can feel on your tongue, and it feels different in your mouth depending on whether you allow it to slowly slide down your throat or stuff your cheeks with it. And kitchens are full of sounds that add richness to the setting: you can hear the crackling of a fire, the sizzle of a piece of meat dropped onto an iron cooking surface, the delightful shing of a carving knife being sharpened. You hear things at the dinner table, too: the delightful crunch of biting into a cracker, or the clattering of cutlery on plates. A baked pastry will make different sounds when you bite into it depending on whether it crust is hard or thin and flaky.

Fantasy is often viewed as one of the most immersive genres, largely because it spends so much time on providing detailed description that not only tells you what is happening in the world, but giving you a sense of what it feels like to live in that world. This often means that fantasy novels are longer and slower paced, but one of the reasons that many people enjoy large fantasy tomes is that they enjoy the feeling of being transported and immersed in another world.

I usually end up skimming/skipping lengthy food descriptions in fantasy books. They don't add much to character or plot development. I like the idea of 'engaging all five senses' but think there should be more intentionality in it than just engaging senses for the sake of engaging senses, which is often what food descriptions seem like.

That's how I feel about visual descriptions in many books. I have a weak visual imagination, so most of it goes straight through me without leaving an impression. I wonder if non-visual sensory description is especially valuable to people like me? I'm not particularly interested in food (or in fantasy for that matter), but the snippets of description in Kuiper's comment helped me to understand why those non-visual sensory elements can make a setting feel real.

Stephen King’s “On Writing” has an illustration of the opposite approach to this style: being judicious in description and still creating a rich environment in the reader’s mind, with just enough of the important details.

It begins “Look - here’s a table covered with a red cloth.” https://www.google.ca/amp/s/mukundacharan.wordpress.com/2011...

As someone like you who hates too much description, I’m comforted in the idea that judicious description is a skill to be appreciated.

I think you'll just find enjoyment in other non-descriptive genres, that I would likely not enjoy. Personally I can practically see the things I read, and it's colored my reading so much that I almost get bored reading stuff that's not as descriptive. I also theorise that this is the reason I usually dislike movie adaptions - it doesn't fit with the "movie" my brain created.

I usually end up skimming/skipping lengthy food descriptions in fantasy books.

My experience with fantasy books is The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I tried LotR first, throwed it away after a few pages and, following advice from an expert, bought The Hobbit, that was a quick and enjoyable read. Then I turned to LotR, much better that time. But the third part was painful, not because the food, but the endless tour into Mordor. I skipped most of it, just scanning through pages to see if someone interesting showed. I guess there's a detail level beyond what regular readers get lost.


I got to the point where I read the first and last lines of a paragraph and if it seems like things happen in the middle I then read it. I don't really need "unoriginal description of a femme fatale" #5666481.

> As a fantasy author, I am constantly looking for ways to provide description that engages all five senses.

As a reader, this does nothing for me. Written fiction does not really stimulate any of my senses. I primarily come for the worldbuilding, setting, the plot and the characters, in that order. It might have something to do with aphantasia. Usually I prefer scifi for that reason, but occasionally fantasy parodies get quite serious about taking the setting apart and exploring what consequences the tropes have, which is quite fun to read.

The only thing I remember about lembas is that it is damn useful.

You did a great job illustrating exactly what you referred to in that comment. Thank you for the sensory journey!

You might like to check out Steven Brust's "Vlad Taltos" series. It, and Brust himself, are somewhat known for their slightly foody bend. See, e.g. [1].

[1] http://www.sfwa.org/2013/04/guest-post-the-killer-in-the-kit...

Sometimes I've found it hard to slow down and read every word, but when I do (and the author is good) the escapism is sublime, and the reading experience becomes more than just turning pages to uncover plot points.

Engaging all five senses is fine until it becomes the goal itself. Does it add to the story? No? Delete it.

This has nothing to do with the topic at all but I really enjoyed your comment. I learned something today. Thanks!

I think it does have to do with the topic, because it answers the headline question "why do fantasy novels have so much food"; I literally came to this comments section to remark that the answer is likely to do with the fact that engaging all of a reader's senses is a common literary trick to make the reader feel like they've been transported into a world. Turns out, eating food is one of the most common ways to engage the sense of taste. :P The author of the OP is probably being a bit narrow in that this isn't something confined to just fantasy, but if one were to somehow prove that this is a trope that's uniquely prevalent in fantasy (which the author doesn't), then the further answer would probably just be, like many other fantasy things, "because Tolkien did it". But really, when Rowling describes a Hogwarts feast it's not because she's trying to check off the I-wrote-a-fantasy-book checklist, it's because eating is a familiar sensation that helps the reader establish a firm relationship with a setting that is often otherwise deliberately alien and mysterious.

Other characters only get stew, which is oddly omnipresent. In her satirical travel guide to fantasy literature, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Jones jokes that stew "is the staple food in Fantasyland, so be warned..."

I'm a novice cook, but if you've got a hodgepodge of foraged ingredients, some kind of stew is definitely what I'd be making. Hard to imagine an intrepid adventurer having the time or equipment to cook much else.

I mean really, when was the last time you cooked a perfect omelette or steak over a campfire on the lam?

There’s another big factor: soups and stews maximize the nutrients you get from your ingredients. If you fry a piece of meat you’re losing some fat, if you boil and drain veggies or meat you lose a lot. If you throw everything into a pot and stock/soup/broth is part of the meal, everything that went in goes into you. Soups and stews are also excellent ways to utilize preserved meats which need rehydrating, softening, and can make use of their salt content. Legumes and pulses pretty much require that treatment as well, and can thicken a stew or soup.

Aside from equipment there is just the reality of nutrition.

Also stew is culturally omnipresent. Every culture has stew, so it makes sense it would be omnipresent in fantasyland.

From my understanding, French kitchen gardens are called 'potager' gardens, which stems from soup/food cooked in a pot. I suspect that a lot of historical cooking was 'heat some liquids and what you have on hand in a pot'.

It’s also a good way to get some sterilized water into your system.

That's still how I usually cook, more or less.

Steaks can be cooked on a stick. Omelettes can be cooked in a can.

The last time I ate campfire-cooked pizza was over 20 years ago, but it was still a pizza. The most annoying part was carrying the oven over the portages.

It folded up, like Skidbladnir for cooks.

This is about foraged ingredients though. How do you forage flour to make a pizza dough?

A lightweight bushwalking oven would be great. Fresh bread.

There are plenty of options, from a dutch oven (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_oven) to a light weight pot or even some al-foil.

Damper (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damper_(food)) is an Australian tradition that can be cooked on nothing but campfire ashes.

Dutch ovens are necessarily really heavy aren't they? To spread the heat uniformly. Though there's a "camping" one at that wiki link, I wouldn't fancy backpacking it. The aluminium one they mention would be lighter, but still not very light (for same reason).

I'm not sure about alum foil, but sounds worth a try. the melting point is high enough, but so thin... There's a (NZ) maori tradition of roasting by wrapping meat/veg in leaves (foil would do), then burying in coal and heated stones. Might work for bread, too?

If the idea of an oven is uniform heat (idk, is it? IANAC), that buried in coals & stones seems pretty good, with foil to keep ash out. If hot air is part of an oven (again, idk), maybe a little space at the top could constructed too.

When I've attempted damper, I've lost a lot, in the form of charred skin. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

> Dutch ovens are necessarily really heavy aren't they?

I think they just feel that way because we hold them extended with one arm. In a backpack with tonnes of other stuff I doubt it would be that noticeable. I've mostly used much thinner pots and found they work well though, the al-foil approach too.

> If the idea of an oven is uniform heat (idk, is it? IANAC), that buried in coals & stones seems pretty good, with foil to keep ash out. If hot air is part of an oven (again, idk), maybe a little space at the top could constructed too.

The main thing is you want the charcoal to cool a bit first, not red hot straight from the fire, then the thickness doesn't matter and it will be uniform enough.

There's a chance I could be forgetting some stuff here because it's been a long time. If you've got a wood fired BBQ (not many do anymore) they make an ideal testing ground every time you have a BBQ, that's where I learned my craft as a kid.

I think they just feel that way because we hold them extended with one arm. In a backpack with tonnes of other stuff I doubt it would be that noticeable.

Cast iron dutch ovens weight about 30lbs. How much do you normally carry in your backpack, that 30lbs would not be noticeable?

The pizza was done in a reflector oven.

There's a horizontal panel to support the food, a 45-degree lower panel to reflect heat upward into the food, and a 45-degree panel to reflect heat downward into the food. And then there's some wirework to keep it upright next to your fire.

It all folds flat and slides into the pocket of your pack normally reserved for the ballistic armor plate. Maybe it isn't designed for that, but few other things would fit in there. Maps, perhaps?

There may be another way to rig the reflectors to reconfigure as a solar oven.

Sounds like a bit of practice is needed! Don't have a BBQ, so will practice on-trail. Did you bake bread this way? (I feel it's less forgiving than, say, a roast.)

The arm increases weight percieved, but I really mean "ultra-light" bushwalking. e.g. my tent (a "bivvy") was less than 1kg. So... even a regular saucepan or frying pan is over-the-top in weight! Alum foil is more "ultra-light". :)

In most fantasy worlds aluminum, if it exists at all, would be a luxury item less common than gold. You need some very modern infrastructure to refine aluminum from ore in useful quantities.

"I mean really, when was the last time you cooked a perfect omelette or steak over a campfire on the lam?" About a month ago. I was raised in the forest cooking trout we had caught the same day. Sometimes wed even do dutch oven cooking for city-slickers who got hunting tags. Cast iron can make some of the best food you ever tasted when done right.

I'll give you an example of one of my favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ_ly0Ja394

Camping doesn't have to mean bad food! It can mean even better food than normal! (I also a vote for damper , which I call aborigine bread, it's great for snacking on the go)

Dutch ovens wouldn't be practical in many fantasy settings.

The main issue is the length of time it takes for things to cook. You've got to get a fire going for coals which takes time and also alerts potential enemies or predatory creatures. Most folks traveling around in fantasy novels aren't undertaking their journeys as pleasure tours and usually they're traveling through dangerous areas.

Likewise even for nomadic peoples who might find the time to use it, a cast-iron pot would be an extreme luxury given the weight.

So I think dutch ovens in a fantasy setting would probably serve the same purpose they often did for your family: serving foppish urban aristocrats tasty food whilst afield!

I agree that dutch ovens are capable of truly remarkable food.

You linked a video of a man making... stew.

You must taste this stew. You want steak instead? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuMMa1-VhQg Learn some fire safety while you're at it.

I have no objections to stew. I love stew! It's just ironic.

Prospectors have been known to take sourdough starters to make bread: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough#History

On the lam, no. In a team with a waggon or two to carry flour and a dutch oven, absolutely.

I'm making my way through Wheel of Time right now. There probably could've been two fewer books if the descriptions of food and female characters' breasts were edited down.

Wheel of Time the best book is around a 7/10. With some dropping as low as 3/10. There are much better examples of more immersive Fantasy out there. WoT, is a great example of a massive but mediocre series.

EDIT: The ratings are my opinion, but the downturn can be seen on goodreads ratings and is discussed in the WoT community. While not all agree there was a downturn, it being a point of contention in this series is an indicator there was one for most people.

As a completionist, the WoT series is one of only two that I've ever intentionally decided I did not want to finish. After six or seven books of weird preteen level sexual politics and behavior, and stupid plot threads because of if, I decided I'd had enough.

For reference, the other series was Twilight, and I made it all the way through book three before I gave up in disgust at that waste of time. So maybe that means WoT is roughly twice as good as Twilight in my eyes? I'm not exactly sure that's high praise. Or praise at all...

Wheel of Time is my go to example of bad fantasy literature. But there is someone disagreeing in here. Maybe it's just sunk cost bias. But anyhow it goes to show how tastes vary.

To each their own. It's often brought up in discussions as people's favorite fantasy series, or an example of a good series. I don't fault anyone for thinking the former, but I think the latter requires a bit of justification if not presented in purely subjective manner.

There is a downturn. Most people agree that Lord of Chaos was the last good book until Brandon Sanderson took over. I like to thrown in book 7 as well but RJ really did waste a whole lot of books on Ajah politics

Don't throw around scores like they're facts. Those are your scores relative to the books you've read. For many WoT is a fantastic series better than many other fantasy series.

Goodreads puts WoT book 1 at around a 4.18 and a downturn around book 8 to 3.90. Which exemplifies my point. Also my opinion, but you have to scale goodreads ratings between 3.5 and 4.5. That's about the lowest and highest I've seen, but I'd love to see goodreads discuss this.

I loved this series when I was younger. I am still fond of it, but I have read so much more that is better now.

It slows to a tedious chore, particularly around the Knitting Circle leaving Ebou Dar with the Aes Sedai. All that is pretty obvious grinding to quota from the author.

If you want some next level fantasy, check out The Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson. Few stories have so emotionally buffeted me. It is brutal, macabre, tragic; but also redemptive, funny, clever - dazzlingly imaginative.

I'll check it out. I'll also mention the (prose) web serial Worm, because it has many of the same qualities.

It's everybody's clothes in that series. Seemingly, the women change more often than men, but Rand has a different coat in every chapter!

It slows things down, but adds some nice visual context.

In the sartorial vein, Philip K. Dick's hilarious descriptions of his character's zany outfits are themselves worthy of an essay. From "Ubik" (1969): "pinstriped clown-style pyjamas";"a sporty maroon wrapper, twinkle-toes turned-up shoes and a felt cap with a tassel"; "Square and puffy, like an overweight brick, wearing his usual mohair poncho, apricot-colored felt hat, argyle ski socks and carpet slippers"; "...his electric-yellow cummerbund, petal skirt, knee-hugging hose and military-style visored cap"; "He wore fuchsia pedal pushers, pink yak fur slippers, a snakeskin sleeveless blouse, and a ribbon in his waist-length dyed white hair"; "black oxfords, wool socks, knickers, cotton shirt, camel's-hair sports coat and golf cap"; "a pinstriped, blue-black, double-breasted suit, suspenders, wide floral necktie and white shirt with celluloid collar."

My favorite was this one:

> Beside it stood a beetle-like individual wearing a Continental outfit: tweed toga, loafers, crimson sash and a purple airplane-propeller beanie.

Ha ha seriously though after a few books in I started reading only the first line of each paragraph!! Way too much description of everything

I definitely find myself reading the same way occasionally. Usually it's when authors start listing things. Jules Verne's 20,000 leagues has a habit of listing types of fish, which would be fun if I had any idea what they looked like.

Ready Player One had a moment where for two full pages it was a literal comma separated list of pop culture references. It was one of many such lists although not normally so long.

You say way too much, I say the main attraction of the series.

The braid twirling descriptions would have probabaly taken down another half a book. Still a great series though

I had to force myself to finish Dance With Dragons. The whole GoT just dissipated into a bunch of meandering subplots going nowhere.

Me, too. I thought it flowed a little better when read in order interleaved with the fourth book since those last two books happen at the same time, but still lots of plots that disappeared in translation to the TV show - so they could not have been that important to the end game. It was always going to be difficult to top the first three books, how many book series are consistently great?

> It was always going to be difficult to top the first three books, how many book series are consistently great?

In a similar vein, my anticipation of The Doors of Stone has gone from fervent to uneasy as the years have dragged on...

Everything in that series is over-described. The whole series could have been a trilogy.

It's a big story... I'm into the fifth book now on my latest re-read. From my recollections, it doesn't really start to sprawl until the seventh book, when everybody is just farting around in Altara and Ghealdan and Amadacia for books on end. There's quite a lurch when Sanderson took over - the final two books seemed to ruthlessly sprint to the end.

I just hope that George RR Martin doesn't keel over before he finishes his next book, and we're left with the incomprehensible hack job of the HBO series as the resolution.

Um, the first book is "They finally left the village."

The Wheel of Time was stupidly verbose and slow from book one. I really have no idea how the books became so popular. I think it was because Jordan was willing to talk to people online back when that was a thing.

If you simply focused on Mat instead of Rand's Tsundere Haremfest, you would have a good story and it would be 3 books long, tops. (I'm leaving aside Sanderson's seeming inability to write Mat's character properly.)

I rather liked Sanderson's portrayal of Mat. He was actually shown to be a trickster, not just described as one. Up until Sanderson, the only character-defining actions taken by Mat are throwing a rock at a Whitecloak and stealing a dagger. Not at all the trickster described by others, but just a common fool.

"If you simply told a different story, it would be a different length."

Books 4-6 is where it bogged down for me. I actually considered quitting reading the series after The Fires of Heaven, but I felt like it picked up again around book 7.

Yes it was sprawled out more by then, but at least the plot started to move forward again. I remember doing the math and for one of the PoV characters in book 5 (Rand maybe?) it was less than 48 hours for the entire book, much of which was him worrying internally about things mostly inconsequential to the plot.

Book 4 might be the best book in the series. Perrin's return to the Two Rivers is one of my favorite episodes. And then the two Rand chapters in the Aiel ancestral history machine in Rhuidean... those were mind-blowing the first time I read them.

I totally agree. That book was a cut above. The back-in-time view through the Ter'angreal was inspired.

I also really enjoyed the prior book, when Mat's luck runs hot leaving Tar Valon.

I stopped reading at book 7. I refuse to pick them up again. I don't want to give money or energy to an author who can't finish. I refuse to start GoT for a similar reason.

I said to a friend when I stopped that he would die before he finished the series. I didn't think it would be as soon as it was but I happened to be right anyway.

Picking Sanderson to finish it was smart. He knows how be ruthless with a subplot

Didn't he die while writing the final volume...

I can't say. I have a lack of confidence that he could have kept it down to a final volume. It is of course impossible to say now. But his track record indicated that he was reluctant/incapable of finishing a subplot.

Did he intend to finish? Probably.

Was he capable of finishing? Previous work suggests not.

The final trilogy :-P

It was supposed to be, and then he got a pay-by-the-word contract, or so I understand...

The unnecessary verbosity of these books makes me so mad I could just tug on my braid.

Blog devoted to making meals from Game Of Thrones: http://www.innatthecrossroads.com/home/game-thrones-recipes/...

Blog devoted to "revisiting rpg rations": http://cookingtheperiodway.blogspot.com/

Somewhat related, blog from the food stylist for the recent Hannibal and American God series: http://janicepoonart.blogspot.com/

I tried making one of those Game of Thrones recipes, but Whole Foods told me they don't carry aurochs shoulder anymore :-(

Also, slug liver is really hard to come by.

Redwall was one of my favorite series. I saw Brian Jacques at a book signing. He had a very entertaining personality and was really excited to meet his young readers.

I didn't realize other books had so much food.

Just reading the headline I immediately thought of Brian Jacques. I devoured (heh) those books as a kid.

Same here, Redwall and scones in particular.

I loved the Redwall series! My friends and I actually learned the Royal House of Riftgard script [0] to pass notes in class. To this day I can still read/write it as an "alternative" alphabet.

[0] http://redwall.wikia.com/wiki/Royal_House_of_Riftgard_Script

All I've wanted, my whole life, was to taste Meadow Cream. I have no idea what it is, but I know it's delicious.

Tolkien wrote LOTR in the late 1930's, right after the Great Depression. I would guess that the UK weathered it better than places like the US dustbowl states, but it really made an impression on people. My grandparents would have a pantry full of canned food, yet claim they didn't have anything in the house to eat. And my mother who went through wartime rationing in the UK (she picked up coal that fell off the trains to heat their house), has similar behavior. So I'm not surprised if some of the older fantasy authors include lavish descriptions of food in their novels, as that would be an ideal for them.

Tolkien had already been through one war and was writing LOTR during the second. He was certainly familiar with rationing.

I thought everyone knew to not eat the food in Faerie.

Unless Mr. Valabar prepares it, of course.

Eating food is something everyone does, and is an important cultural indicator in the real world. When your book is essentially a travelogue of the hero's journey, of course you're going to describe the food. For the rest of the age, tourists are going to just show up in Mordor and order a bowl of authentic Master Samwise's coney stew. And they'll visit Lonely Mountain to order lakemen's cram, whether the locals still eat it or not. It'd be like going to Mexico and never eating a taco.

> It'd be like going to Mexico and never eating a taco.

Just remember that there's only a very small subset of "tacos" that actually represent historic/traditional Mexican cuisine, and it gets even more controversial when you try to define what it means to be Mexican (does Tex Mex cuisine count?) -- it's really a fascinating history.

Don't forget the Dragonlance cookbook.

Brandon Sanderson pointed out that showing meals is a great way to demonstrate worldbuilding and culture at the same time in a scene.

I never thought of that but yeah George RR Martin definitely uses it to portray the culture of the kingdom: from the spicy pepper-infused Dornish cuisine to the "bowl o' brown" from the flea bottom of kings landing, it really is a fantastic plot device to convey a great deal of information so concisely.

As a consequence I can't read his books while even a little bit hungry.

It has been argued it stems from a tradition of using food as an allegory for sex in fairy tales. http://www.slaphappylarry.com/food-children-literature-ficti...

Only fantasy novels? To take an example close to hand, Flaubert's Sentimental Education describes a fair number of elaborate meals.

It's big in historical fiction, as well. Patrick O'Brian goes on at length about burgoos and wine, and soused hog face, and suet pudding, not to mention the infamous toasted cheese that Killick is always whipping up in it's special sterling silver chafing dish.

This goes back all the way to Homer's Odyssey. Half of that work is Odysseus or Telemachus and whomever they've met eating copious amounts of meat and bread, and drinking quite a lot of wine. Yet not a vegetable to be found anywhere…

For the same reason that there's so much high school in Anime?

You mean the target market of fantasy novels is chefs?


Because...fantasy readers enjoy food? Who doesn't?

Am I missing something subtle here, or are you actually going "HURR DURR FANTASY FANS ARE FAT"?

Am I missing something subtle here


or are you actually going "HURR DURR FANTASY FANS ARE FAT"?


That's good, then. Would you care to enlighten us, or are you just going to be smug and inscrutable?

That poster might be saying it’s a life experience that most people can relate to. I suspect most of anime’s audience has attended high school.

Maybe. A lot of high school anime is marketed directly at teenagers, though. If their intention was to say "it's something everyone understands" rather than "it's something relevant to the target market specifically," they picked a bad example.

That's good, then. Would you care to enlighten us

"Us" generally, yes. I think I've succeeded.

or are you just going to be smug and inscrutable?

I find that your reaction indicates that my approach is commensurate with the tone you've displayed in the rest of this thread. I hope that most everyone else has a different experience.

The inscrutability is part and parcel of the message.

"What do they eat?"[0] is an obnoxious and repetitive question certain readers will ask when engaging a fictional world... but even when you don't consciously ask it, your brain will likely notice the answer's presence / absence while it determines the level of immersion you feel.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvwlt4FqmS0 explores this in the context of video games...

It translates to the big screen too. I remember being highly distracted during the first LOTR movie, when the adventurers pile in and raid Bilbo's pantry for an on the spot feast - I was thinking "How come a tiny, friendless Hobbit who lives a typical bachelor lifestyle would have such vast quantities of perishable food in his pantry? Enough to feed a horde of hungry humans like that?".

I look back to my own bachelor life in the past, and I barely had a sandwich in my fridge!

Hobbits are explicitly noted for being particularly fond of and interested in food, and Bilbo is a wealthy bachelor with, even for a Hobbit, an unusual interest in food.

Being surprised that he has an inordinate quantity of food is like being surprised a wealthy single geek has an unusual quantity of computing equipment.

Hobbits like food :-) and Bilbo is described as a Gourmand in LOTR

Apparently you have not met a Hobbit.

Noticed this as well. I've learned to identify pretty quickly whether a section is merely descriptive. Being able to skim is a pretty valuable skill imo.

That's not to say that such detail isn't valuable, of course. But, at least for me, there's a time and place for it. The first time I read LOTR I skimmed past the food and the songs, as I cared more about the plot, but I did otherwise on subsequent readings.

I'm not sure if Neil Gaiman counts as a Fantasy author but In American Gods this is kind of referenced in a tongue and cheek way where it's insisted upon that they must share a drink of Mead before setting out on their journey 'because mead is traditional for this sort of thing'. Though that also harkens back to mythology which is a large part of the novel.

A science-fiction novel in which food is central to the plot is "Alastor: Wyst" by Jack Vance. The characters are bored by the tasteless food they usually have to eat ("Some gruff and deedle, with some wobbly to fill the cracks!") and go on expeditions ("bonterfests") in search for tasty, natural morsels.

Apart from the Reptilian aliens, who actually eat little mice for celebration, people in Star Trek hardly ever touch their delicious food. Which frustrates me no end, but it does give the impression those people must be affluent beyond imagination, systematically ignoring food like they do.

In TNG/DS9/VOY it's both true and false at the same time. True, they're affluent in the sense of living in a post-scarcity economy with matter replicator technology; however the food they eat while in space, despite good looks, generally tastes like crap - as the characters frequently mention. Apparently 24th-century replicators are still not advanced enough to create something tasty, so they try to eat food from grown ingredients whenever they can.

The more likely explanation is that they are all organic, artisanally-prepared food hipsters.

> Jacques said that his book’s fictional meals stemmed from childhood food fantasies during the years of British rationing.

He also wrote books (i.e. Redwall) with blind children in mind, which might explain some of the emphasis on the taste and texture of the food.

This didn't really answer the question though. The only two reason's given were LOTR and Redwall, and it was not expanded on much. I was hoping for a more concrete answer.

"because Tolkien did it" is very often an answer in the genre

Depending on where you draw the lines, this is perhaps slightly outside the genre, but not a mention of Alice in Wonderland?

Also, SF often uses food and drink for atmosphere, from the replicators in Star Trek, to the yeast-derived meals in The Expanse, to diner food on Gibson's Bridge.

I was really surprised to see the butter pies from A Tale of Time City as the first example here. I don't know anyone else besides my mom who has read that one, but I distinctly remember being envious of the children from the future who had such tasty snacks.

In Japan, we have a "Potato Police" who blame the typical medieval fantasy novels which features the potato. For the potato didn't exist in medieval period.

The potato was first cultivated before 5000bc https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_potato

It wasn't in midevil Europe, but most fantasy is a whole new world so there is no reason to say potato shouldn't be in any novel.

Try Korean dramas. When there's food, you get detailed close-ups of the food.

From what I've seen, the last Final Fantasy game had a lot of food close-up.

Reading fantasy novels has always made me hungry. Not kidding.

starving artists picture what they most desire might explain some of it. But probably it is just a naive attempt at world building, and doing what others before one has done.

I personally tend to skim sections on food as they are boring to me.

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