When is a hamburger not a hamburger?

Monday, May 14, 2018
I found the perfect spot for a pre-Mother's Day dinner through online reviews. One said the place was small and the wait might be long, but we were able to skip a long wait and push two tables together to dine al fresco on the small sidewalk out front in what can be described as perfect weather.

What made me select this particular restaurant? The description of the featured dish. One reviewer called it "haunting," as in, the flavor will haunt you until you go back and eat there again. How could anyone ignore that recommendation? I couldn't, and was not disappointed.

The dish was the perfect mixture of sweetness and spice combined in a range of textures that could only be described as pleasurable. Crunchy noodles and tender chicken were abundant in the creamy sauce that spoke to me in the secret language of my ancestors. While I ate, my entire world consisted of the few inches between a white bowl on a black, metal table, and my face above it. But that space contained everything I needed. More than once I had to ask someone to repeat a comment or a question because I had gone missing in a bowl of soup.

The world is explained through metaphors, comparisons and similes. I love figurative language, and have been paying special attention to the way it's used to describe what we eat, where we eat it, and who is eating it. As the food movement in the U.S. continues to expand, dining out (or in) has become an art form, and foodies have developed their own jargon.

Food can be a metaphor for communion because it nourishes the body and soul as people come together to partake. Food also is a metaphor for sex, by satisfying our desires. There are many idioms related to food, and for a fun list, click the following link for examples.


Food also can play a big role when you write a character. A couple of examples from my book, Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, show how a writer can use food to make someone likable or distasteful (pun intended!).

He devoured life like he devoured a great meal, with zest and gusto.

He had a hearty appetite.

He wolfed down his food like he hadn't eaten in days, dropping globs of mashed potatoes and gravy on his shirt and tie.

I also love a good restaurant description, which helps the reader visualize the room with phrases like: several oversized tables crammed together in a too-small space, faded curtains, and a greasy, laminated menu.

Finally, I'll show you how a hamburger is more than just a hamburger in Glenn Savan's 1987 best-seller, White Palace:

They taste like sin would taste, if you could eat it--don't you think?

That's one of the greatest similes of all time. How are you using food in your writing?

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She received the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, and is suddenly hungry for White Castle hamburgers.


Pat Wahler said...

Ah, food, glorious food. So many things are centered around it: holidays, happiness, sorrow, celebration. It only makes sense we should use it in our writing.Terrific reminder, Mary!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--One, where did you eat? Two, I'm writing a story where middle-schoolers are the main characters, and I've written a couple of scenes around the kitchen table, but after reading your post, I realize I should have more food in the story... because middle-schoolers (at least middle school boys) are always eating... or thinking about eating.

Renee Roberson said...

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a foodie (although I love food!), but I've had to re-examine my relationship with it over the past few months when I embarked on my Weight Watchers journey. I feel better than I have in years and hope that my outward appearance reflects it, too! It has taught me a lot about being thoughtful about ingredients I use and healthy substitutions. I've also never cooked more in my life, but I'm loving it.

I always think about the late, great Pat Conroy when equating writers with food prose. He always described southern dishes in his novel in such a decadent way--I looked forward to reading about them. And this post is timely, too. I am working on a YA where the main character has Sensory Processing Disorder and has always been picky about textures of foods because of it. Part of her journey is going to be that she discovers a love of preparing foods that please her palette and catch the eye of others, too.

Mary Horner said...

Thanks, Pat! What would celebrations be without food? Just friends and relatives sitting around arguing about politics? That's no fun! Sioux, (and other St. Louisans) it was Fork and Stix on Rosedale just off the Delmar Loop, on the east end down by the Pageant. And I guess I have something in common with middle-school boys because I think about food and eating all the time! And Reneee, I'm so happy for your food journey and that it's helped you feel better. I've been trying to eat less processed foods, and that has helped me. Food plays a big role in my life, and I like to cook but I don't always have time. I love your idea that your YA novel will have a protagonist who has issues with food but will explore it for herself and others.

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