Paint the Town “Read”

Chapter 4: Food Symbolism in Literature – The Flavour in Storytelling

Food is often associated with memories, feelings and emotions. Sugar and spices tickle our tastebuds not just with flavours but also with nostalgia and fond remembrance as well. This quality of our favourite delicacies offers the perfect literary tool to writers – food symbolism. Just like nature, colours and cigarettes (wink, wink) can be used as a metaphor, so can a simple slice of cake or candy. Let’s take a deeper look into a few noteworthy examples of cuisine in books.



Chocolate – Harry Potter Series

Magic and chocolate? It doesn’t get better than that. Whether it was the sticky chocolate ‘Happee Birthdae Harry’ cake courtesy of Hagrid or the chocolate frogs over which baby-faced Ron and Harry bonded, chocolate has had quite an influence on the wizarding world. It has stood as a symbol of love, friendship and acceptance (and occasionally teenage drama – remember Romilda Vane?). However, the most groundbreaking mention of this dark delicacy is when Lupin offers it as the perfect remedy to one of the darkest creatures of the books, Dementors. The parallel drawn between the Muggle and wizarding worlds is evident as both hail chocolate for its mood-enhancing properties and the courage and joy even a tiny nibble holds. Afterall in the words of the greatest headmaster Hogwarts ever had, “I always find that (chocolate) cheers me up.”


Blue Food – Percy Jackson and the Olympians

‘When life gives you Smelly Gabe saying that blue food doesn’t exist, make blue cookies’ – A Guide to Being a Badass by Sally Jackson

In a book series bursting to the seams with godly beings from numerous mythologies and pantheons, the true goddess was, is and will always be Sally Jackson. The resident Cool Mom Supreme went out of her way to make blue cookies, candies and birthday cakes for Percy to prove a point to her douchebag of an ex-husband, Gabe Ugliano. This devotion and love she poured into her cooking and baking, is evident as a running gag throughout Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. Nectar which tastes like home and a safe haven for its drinker has always been his mom’s homemade blue cookies for Percy. From blue coke for his first dinner at Camp to the iconic blue birthday cupcake which marked the official beginning of the ship of the century, Percabeth: the various shades of blue in cuisine have always been a staple and a constant optimistic reminder of what it means to be home.

(On a sort of related note, in The Last Olympian, Percy requested Zeus to light up the top of the Empire State building blue as a sign to his mother that he was safe and sound. That’s the indomitable spirit of familial love, folks)




Food (in general?) – The Hunger Games

Edible Root and Bread Boy are more than just a knock-off Twilight romance as viewed by the Capitol. Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games is replete with references to food and its recurring symbolism. The name for the fictional country of Panem comes from the Latin phrase, ‘Panem et circenses’ which ironically means Bread and Circuses. The Hunger Games are simply seen as frivolous entertainment ‘circuses’ by the rich Capitol elite who have established their dominance over the districts where hunger and starvation are a common backdrop. Bread has played quite a role in the franchise as a symbol of hope and change: from the sardonic ‘Happy Hunger Games’ exchanged between Katniss and Gale over a loaf of bread to when Peeta purposefully burnt a loaf to help the starving Everdeens to the time District 11 sent a loaf to Katniss after the loss of their tribute Rue showcasing a shift in the political atmosphere of Panem. Bread, along with the Nightlock berries, when used by our star-crossed lovers as a form of open defiance and refusal to play by the rules of the plentiful Capitol serve as seeds of rebellion – a central theme to the narrative.


Honorary Mentions

  • Yes, yes, no article on books and food is complete without mentioning Roald Dahl’s iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The mind-blowing and absolutely bonkers delicacies cooked up by the eccentric Willy Wonka prove that one mustn’t be afraid to push the boundaries when it comes to one’s craft. The book is also a clever metaphor about the difference between the rich and poor as seen in the contrasting lives of the privileged chosen children and Charlie Bucket.

  • Lewis Carroll did an incredible job transforming the highly-ritualized and rule-bound nature of 19th-century mealtimes to the iconic hilarity of the Hatter’s tea party. While in the modern age the tale has been recreated into everything from a film to comic strips, the story when first published challenged societal norms and etiquette in Victorian England. While those readers didn’t have to worry about finding the Dormouse in their teapots, food adulteration was certainly a widespread occurrence and the tea party might have been a satirical take on the same.


Interested in Making Your Own Bookish Treats? Check out these links and bake/cook away –

Need a cool book recommendation related to le theme? Check out – The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Happy Reading!

– Bhavya Nayak, Delhi Public School, Noida


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