Writers and Food: a Love Story

Writers food

The relationship between writers and food is as old as when the dinosaurs stopped roaming the Earth. Whether they cooked it, consumed it or became so fascinated by it that they almost left it to rot (ahem, Friedrich Schiller?) food has always been important to writers. The importance stems from food being a source of inspiration.

Apples have always inspired writers one way or another. Charles Dickens had an obsession with baked apples. Agatha Christie munched on apples in the bathtub while plotting murders. F. Scott Fitzgerald had once went on an apple-mostly diet while staying at a cheap North Carolina hotel to write essays for Esquire in 1936. The famous Schiller rotting apples story informed us that apples, ripe or malodorous inspired writers to create some of their masterpieces. Jack Kerouac’s favorite dessert was apple pie à la mode, even used it as his character, Sal’s favorite dish in his legendary novel On the Road.

When it came to liquor, there was no greater story than Ernest Hemingway’s. The great American writer not only drank prodigiously, but he also gave whiskey, absinthe, martini, daiquiri and gin & tonic a life of their own in his prose. He not only drank and wrote about it, he also invented cocktails and concoctions. Among his famous “alcohol shipping” quotes is:

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

Stephen King even agreed to the stereotype of the “rarely sober writer.” Oscar Wilde had a fascination with champagne. Wilde’s drinking went as far as asking that his favorite bottle -an 1874 Perrier-Jouët- be sent to his cell while imprisoned in 1895. Even in the Muslim world, the controversial, half-Arab, half Persian poet Abu Nawas (756–814) wrote some of his greatest poems in praise of wine. The poems were called khamriyyat or the wine poems. Despite the poet facing a mysterious death in prison due to his notorious lifestyle and homosexuality, his poems were considered the greatest among classical Arabic literature.

Moving on to chocolate, no living person has been known to resist this heavenly food so why would writers? Jane Austen had chocolate for breakfast. Joanne Harris dazzled the world with her novel Chocolat, the first book in the trilogy of the same name, inspired by her own love for confectionery and a family history of kitchen gardening and cookery.

Strangely, not all writers were fond of coffee. Unlike millions of Facebook status updates and viral images that depict coffee as the ultimate source of inspiration, some writers had very unlucky encounters with coffee. Gertrude Stein had always felt wary of caffeine as it elevated her anxiety. Even with a doctor’s prescription ordering her a “cup of coffee a day,” Stein still refused to come near the roasted beans. On the other hand, Marcel Proust had once drank 16 consecutive cups of espresso! Now that’s a story for all the Facebook coffee-nerds.

Were most writers hooked on junk food and unhealthy meals? Not really. Alice Walker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Agostinho da Silvo, and Jonathan Safran Foer were vegetarians. J.M. Coetzee exercises regularly and stays away from caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and meat. Lord Byron was a chronic dieter later in his life refusing fish, mutton, and wine when invited to dinner at the home of his friend, poet Samuel Rogers.

According to recent studies, eating proper, healthy food that is good for your brain also makes you a better writer. Foods rich in antioxidants like berries, legumes, artichokes, cranberries, potatoes, apples, plums and pecans have anti-aging properties and protect your brain cells from dementia. Fish oil and sardines, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, boost your brain’s gray matter. Moderate amounts of caffeine through daily intake of coffee and tea, help boost concentration while Folic acid supplements increase the writer’s cognitive functions especially memory and critical thinking.

Writing and food will always develop a love affair of sorts whether dangerous, abusive or platonic. Whenever a writer’s palate is treated to a tasteful experience, a book is most likely to be created.

By: Jaylan Salah

Ernest Hemingway cocktails and concoctions

Writers Food from A to Z

Alice Waters on falling for food that is good for you

Abu Nawas and other Muslim poets

One Response to "Writers and Food: a Love Story"

  1. Iman   April 4, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    So interesting and nicely written, although I would have preferred you’d speak of Abu Nawas as an Arab in general not necessarily a Muslim, you didn’t have to mention the other writers being Christian, if that was their religious view. In fact, no nationalities were mentioned either. I just didn’t like the fact that you had presented a negative attitude in relation to religion.


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