The easiest way to get me to pick up a book is to tell me it has gratuitous helpings of food described in the pages. My roommates used to poke fun at the way I often relaxed before bed, thumbing through a gourmet vegetarian cooking magazine. “Food porn” they called it before that had become an actual hashtag (before hashtags were really a thing, even).
If, like me, you find that a good book could always be better if its pages were peppered with food-focused scenes, then I’ve got some stories for you. Only two of them are speculative, but, again, this is about fiction with lots of food in the narrative. We’ll treat speculative elements as garnish here.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
From the title and cover art alone you could surmise that this story will feed your soul. A friend who recommended it to me had me at the plotline: a teen mom, Emoni, in her senior year of high school pursues her culinary dreams.
Chapters in With the Fire on High are short with no words wasted, all beautiful and arranged to be as magical and heart-hitting as the food Emoni makes.
The slam poetry performer and author Acevedo calls NYC home, with heritage from the Dominican Republic. In this and her two other novels (The Poet X and the upcoming Clap When You Land) she explores the meanings of being Afro-Latina, of family, and of being female in a world that raises its youth to see the feminine as fractured, frail, and challenges the notion pleasure is shameful.
If you want to learn more about the Acevedo, I strongly recommend listening to her interview with NPR.
“Salt-Skin and Pie” by Alena Sullivan
This one is one of LSQ‘s own published short stories, from Issue 25. It’s on the longer side for a short story, but it earns that length with the issues it balances: the loss of a child, the loss of a relationship, the tug of the ocean and numbness, the comfort of food, and the kiss of hope found in new friendship. Also, a wlw taste of romance!
All that plus pies makes this a story I’ve never forgotten.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Kinou Nani Tabeta?) by Fumi Yoshinaga
This slice-of-life manga about a gay couple–Kakei-san and Kenji-kun–in Japan debuted in 2007 as one of the first of its kind: a story that treated gay characters not as a fantasy or joke, but as real people going through the ups and downs of daily life. The manga recently got its own drama adaptation; I could do without some of its scripted silliness, but on the whole I found it a faithful adaptation with spot-on acting from the main characters.
And food is central to the plot! Kakei-san is a lawyer… but since he and Kenji won’t be having kids, Kakei-san worries about their future without children to look after them in old age. Hence, operation save-lots-o-money is borne, and it’s on a shoestring budget that Kakei unleashes his creativity and passion in the kitchen. Meanwhile, his boyfriend goes and buys pricey Hagen Daaz ice cream from the convenience store on a whim… You can see where some of the tension in this story is born. But the best part? Author Fumi Yoshinaga gives us the recipes for what Kakei makes.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This was my first Robin McKinley book and it is still my favorite because its filled with descriptions of all kinds of desserts. The main character is, after all, a baker. It’s worth pointing out, too, that while this is a novel about vampires, it’s unlike any other vampire book I’ve read. For starters, there’s no la-la-people-can-totally-date-vamps element; vampires’ status as heartless monsters is very firmly rooted in this story, even as the main character skates on the edge of something like friendship with a right-out freak among vampires (a la that recent Venom movie).
Warning, though: you can’t read this without opening the cupboard and bemoaning a lack of flour up to the task of filling the craving to bake and eat that this book inspires: cinnamon rolls, chocolate anything, cherry pie, blueberry muffins. Even in the scene where Sunshine eats a bunch of fresh-from-the-tree apples with straight-from-the-cellar wine on a bunch of furs by a fireplace stokes that same spot in my brain that is stimulated by all the baked goods.
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
And speaking of baked goods… readers, do you enjoy scones? Better stock up before you read this one. Jasmine Guillory writes the best romance I’ve ever read, and while Wedding Date is still my favorite of hers, Royal Holiday takes a different cake(!) for making me want to eat all the time.
Here’s the gist of the plot: Vivian is an older woman and the long-divorced mother of a professional stylist. When her daughter is invited to be the substitute stylist to British royalty, Vivian travels along with to the Sandringham Estate, where she meets Malcolm, the charming Private Secretary to the Queen. There’s more than just food in this novel, of course, but the food was my favorite surprise in this book, including, beyond scones, delicious sandwiches prepped in the kitchen, breakfast ready and waiting first thing in the morning, and Nigerian soups in a London restaurant.
About this Column: With occasional parentheticals a la Robin McKinley, If This, Then That connects the dots between niche interests for LSQ readers and the books that suit them.