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Food For Thought - The Importance of Food in Art

Food is a vital part of our existence. It is so important to our society, our culture and our identity. Food is so entwined with our experiences it has the power to evoke powerful memories of people, places, things and can remind us of home. The important place food has in our lives and society is reflected in the art we create. Throughout history, food has been depicted in visual art. From the Greeks and Roman where banquets were shown in their paintings and mosaics to drawings of food found in the Egyptian pyramids (Widewalls). Many of these visuals give us an insight into these societies. Through the art, we can see what kind of food was eaten by different sections of society, how it was served, and how it was eaten (Bass-Krueger). Food in art can also be used as a symbol to convey a message. In the 16th and 17th century, food often represented decay and the temporary and transient nature of life. In the 20th and 21st century depiction of food (especially convenience food) has conveyed messages about commercial and consumer culture (Royal Academy). Perhaps the most famous example of this is Andy Warhol’s artwork of Campbell’s Soup Cans, commenting on mass production.


In the modern era, food is greatly depicted in photography. We have all become artists of photography with social media. Food is the most photographed subject on Instagram with #food, #instafood and #yummy amongst the top 100 hashtags (SocialMediaToday). Photographing and sharing images of our food is a way to connect with people and our culture. On key society celebration days (pancake day, Christmas, New Year) people post images of their meals and food on social media in order to connect with others and to artistically show their ‘performance’ of these cultural events. Food is used in theatre as a tool to draw the audience deeper into the story and as an immersive technique. Immersive dining experiences see audience members enjoy a meal whilst viewing a theatrical performance (often surrounding the diners). Within these performances, the audience is part of the production, and actors interact with the diners whilst they enjoy their meal (Broadway World). These experience such as Mamma Mia! The Party really captivate audiences and use food as a tool to immerse them in the world of the show. Other theatre shows incorporate food by having the actors eat or cook live on stage. Nigel Slater’s Toast tells the story of the early life of the chef and uses food as a tool for storytelling and to mark important moments in the characters life. Throughout the show, meals are cooked live on stage, and at one point the audience is invited to eat a Walnut Whip at the same time as an actor on stage. This show touches upon the memories created by food, and by allowing the audience to smell and taste at key moments, it draws the audience into the story and allows them to empathise more with the character’s journey.


Food is also important in creating worlds in fiction, whether in TV and film or books.

Historical novelist Martine Bailey states that in fiction “food is the perfect way to show not tell” (Historical Novel Society). Whether creating a fantasy world, writing historical fiction or a version of our reality, food needs a presence and demands to be a part of the culture of the characters. Food is used in historical fiction to transport the reader to the specific time period by using accurate cooking techniques, recipes and ingredients. Food choices and character relationships with food can also be a tool to reveal personality traits and background. In Harry Potter a magical world has been created, but also alongside this is a world of food that the characters explore, share and find comfort in. Feasts and meals play an important part, and “the sharing of food ‘builds tensions, creates bonds, and codes different characters as “acceptable” or “unacceptable”’ (Leisa Anne Clark). There are many more examples of this, with many fictional foods becoming standout plot points and shaping key moments. In The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, Turkish delish is used as a tool by the White Witch to manipulate Edmund, in Matlida, a large chocolate cake is used as a punishment for a thieving student and in Spongbob Squarepants the Krabby Pattie causes much drama and character rivalry. The world of food in certain works of fiction are so complex and detailed that cookery books have been created based on these stories to allow people to try and recreate these recipes (34 Cookbooks Inspired by Popular TV Shows and Movies)


“Everyone eats, and the choices we make reflect who we are and what we believe” (Annie Gray). We all have experiences with food. We all have memories associated with particular dishes, whether that is childhood recipes, foods for special occasions or just our weekly staples. Our food choices and habits are part of who we are and are complex and varied. The food represented in art is just as revealing and intricate. By using food, artists allow us to connect with characters, messages and emotions on a deep human level.

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