From Jabba the Hutt munching on live frogs in Return of The Jedi to the boisterous breakfast scene in The Hobbit, food has given us some of the most memorable scenes in both science fiction and fantasy. That’s because food isn’t just sustenance, it’s also political, social, and cultural. Food helps to set the scene, building the world that you’re supposed to be immersed in, whether it’s the neon-lit backstreets of 27th century Tokyo or the idyllic hobbit-holes of The Shire.
The idea of a meal-in-a-pill — a diminutive pellet that can replace an entire meal— is something of a cliche in science fiction today. Once a display of the utopian possibilities of technology, the food pill was eventually flipped on its head to become a symbol for the pleasureless, utilitarian future that awaited us, when enjoying a proper meal is reserved for only the wealthy. Thankfully with “nu-foods” like Soylent, the future is now! You’d wonder why someone would name a nutritionally-complete meal replacement after fictional wafers made of people (we apologise for the 40 year-late spoiler for Soylent Green), but Soylent has exploded across circles of “food hackers” — people looking to transform and consume food in non-traditional ways, making both sustenance and pleasure more efficient. Across the universe, depictions of alien cultures are often grounded with food — whether it’s strange, still-alive critters, or extragalactic goops and sponges. Food lets us relate, while at the same time emphasising the not-quite-human, despite the fact that most of them speak english.
Strangely enough, another common trope in science fiction seems involve slurping up noodles: Deckard in Blade Runner, Dallas’ free lunch in The Fifth Element, and the much more recent Prometheus — it shows how globalised these futures are, a future where no one has trouble using chopsticks, and no second thought is given to slurping down a quick, no-nonsense bowl of noodles. Where else could you slurp down noodles other than China or Japan today? New York, or any major city comes to mind.
Meanwhile, the food in high fantasy is heavily influenced by medieval European, if not British fare, thanks to the looming influence of giants like Tolkien and Lewis (both English) over the genre. Meals that are described in vivid detail — from the grand feasts in the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles Of Narnia, to the hobbits’ tri-breakfasts— always contain very English dishes: sausages, roasted game, and pies.
High fantasy often places emphasis on the act of breaking bread to bring a rag-tag team of adventurers together, or inverting the trope by introducing calamity during a supposedly joyous feast or banquet — a plot device made notorious by the A Song Of Ice And Fire novels by George R. R. Martin. Occasionally, familiar foods become fantastic versions of themselves, reminding readers that there is magic in these lands, like the perplexingly unpleasant candies in the Harry Potter series, or supernaturally-sustaining lembas bread from The Lord of the Rings.