Blog from the kitchen

Thoughts and words from the chefs upstairs in the kitchen at The Bookshelf.

October 09, 2013

Food & Movies

Food and the movies have long been friends. Many people, myself included, like to watch television at home while eating a snack or meal. And film-goers are inclined to associate going out to the movies with their favorite theater snack--in my case, popcorn.

But here's an intriguing angle of the relationship we don't always notice: Food in the movies. For example, when characters are shown eating food of a certain emphasized quality, poor or high, it's very likely to convey a tone or feeling to viewers.

Consider Marie Antoinette: the desserts are bountiful and decadent, and this reinforces our notion of wealth. Especially when she isn't even interested in them.

And that movie where Michael J Fox eats spoiled milk in cereal without first noticing. I'm pretty sure it's Life With Mikey, but I couldn't remember anything else about it at first and it took some searching to remind me.

And, of course, in any movie where someone, or something, is eating raw flesh of any type, it's clearly done to show a monstrous quality and usually to promote a little fear in the viewer. Seeing the eating of anything not actually digestible, like spoiled or poisoned food, will generally stick in your mind. Just think of that scene with the chicken in Poltergeist, or of the gang's dinner at the palace in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. Live snakes, anyone?

Personally, I'm still reminded of that aforementioned Mike Fox scene (from a movie I recall nothing else about) every time I have the bad luck of pouring some less-than-fresh milk. Those are just a few examples that came to mind, and I won't even dare touch the darker, truly taboo, area of this subject. The type of films attempting maximum disgust, with the 'gross out meter' up to 11 from the start.

It's likely that this affects some of us so strongly because of an ancestral instinct. Before humans could so easily learn about food (such as what is good to eat and what isn't) by reading or talking, we had to rely on experience. If you ate something that was bad and it made you ill, it's unlikely you'd try it again. That's still true for us today because of the same survival mechanism. If you saw someone eat something that killed them, you would steer clear of it altogether. This is tied to our instinctive reactions to rot, death, and other potentially dangerous things. Michael Pollan mentions this in The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Another way food is used in movies is as a prop, or effect; in this case, the food is disguised as something else and we may not even notice what it really is. So what movies use food like this?

Alien: Resurrection comes to mind. Some may argue it's not a great movie, but it was produced at a time when expensive computer animation was just beginning to step into films. And along with this animation it also features some awesome non-animated effects. In one scene an alien egg is shown opening, and lining the inside is (probably) caul fat. That is the fat which lines the intestines of pigs or sheep. It's thin but strong, mostly see-through except for some thick vein-like bits running through it.

Here's a link to some behind-the-scenes footage from the movie; the first bit shows what I'm referring to. Overall, caul fat is very alien in appearance. It's likely that real caul fat is used in this prop because it would be cheaper than replicating it. Having seen this substance on-screen, viewers would probably be surprised to learn that it can be found wrapping various tasty menu items such as terrines.

On the flip side, consider food that is delicious but made to look otherwise. Would you try it? Looks worse than it tastes, I bet.

Other films using disguised food include the first two movies in the Evil Dead series. There, various liquids and nasty guts and colourful Deadite fluids are actually things like 2% milk and creamed corn that's been dyed green, respectively. Another good example is The Exorcist, featuring actual pea soup in one of the iconic scenes in the movie. It's so thick.

For a few months now, we've been doing a Guelph Movie Club, featuring classic flicks democratically chosen by movie nerds, for movie nerds. It's still in the works, but we're doing our best to pair pre-movie specials with the movies themselves. For instance, when Jaws was the monthly selection, we featured beer battered haddock. This past month, the Halloween selections included The Exorcist. The plan was to make hideous but delicious pea soup for that event, but alas, the people--maybe expecting our gross-out plans--chose John Carpenter's Halloween instead. Which leaves us scratching our heads: what special to pair with a slasher flick? We've got some gory ideas in the hopper, but we're still open to suggestions. So you tell us, What special would you like to see paired with babysitter murder? Two Popsicles and a can of pop? You tell us in the comment section below.

Or, just in general, tell us if you have any favourite movie/food relationships you cherish, or fear, whether it's your favourite food for a certain movie or show (fish fingers and custard, anyone?), some food you noticed as a prop in a movie, or food presented wonderfully or weirdly in a movie.

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