Famously quoted on the original, Japanese Iron Chef, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” I guess I believe that, because food is a thing with me in my writing.
Granted, food is a thing for me in general. I spent a few years in my early twenties with so little money that eating every day wasn’t always an option. I never miss a meal now (if you know what I mean). And my characters rarely miss meals, either. Also, you may notice when they eat I tend to tell you what’s in those meals, occasionally in detail.
Once I was told by a beta-reader that I had a seeming obsession with chairs. That’s more of a hangover from a weird piece of advice I got as a young writer. By contrast, writing about food is a way of making character and situation come to life, and it’s such a simple technique. Ian Fleming used it in the James Bond novels to show how Bond is particular about what he puts in his body. Tolkien used it to make a cultural point about how hobbits live. George RR Martin writes extensively about food because apparently he really likes food.
That’s not a fat joke, by the way. There’s a Game of Thrones cookbook (link), so clearly he’s a food fan.
Are characters eating a fancy meal? A plain one? Is it junk food or something healthy? A particular ethnic variety? All of these questions and more reveal things about situation and character. In Walk Away (link), Camaro Espinoza‘s sister makes a complicated dish in one scene because she has become highly domestic after a lifetime of doing things halfway. You know that now, and all I had to do was show you how she cooks.
I’m not saying everyone uses food in this way, but the next time a character in a book you’re reading eats, pay attention.