Twilight: A Eulogy for Food

Twilight Recap: Bella has passed her first weekend in Forks without incident. She has passed the time doing household chores, reading her homework assignments, and visiting the Forks library briefly.

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

Once again we come to one of those delightful Rorschach passages where it's very easy to like or dislike Bella depending on how the reader interprets the passage.

   People greeted me in the parking lot Monday morning. I didn’t know all their names, but I waved back and smiled at everyone. It was colder this morning, but happily not raining. In English, Mike took his accustomed seat by my side. We had a pop quiz on Wuthering Heights. It was straightforward, very easy.
   All in all, I was feeling a lot more comfortable than I had thought I would feel by this point. More comfortable than I had ever expected to feel here.

Bella waves and smiles at everyone at the school, even though she doesn't know their names -- on the face of it, this could be rather pleasant behavior. We can't expect Bella to know everyone's name at this point, not even in a small school like this, and it's nice of her to make an effort to be polite to people who are deliberately being nice to her. On the other hand, there's a certain overlay to this scene of aloofness, despite all the cheerful waving: Bella seems almost like a reigning prom queen deigning to smile down on the cheering little people whose names she can't be bothered to know.

Then, too, the ease with which she mentions Mike's "accustomed seat at [her] side" could be almost snobbishly regal or merely descriptive. Since Bella has already expressed discomfort in-text with Mike's attention towards her (at the beginning of Chapter 2, she described him as "taking on the qualities of a golden retriever" and noted with concern that "It looked like I was going to have to do something about Mike, and it wouldn’t be easy."), the tone is important -- a smugly flattered tone would seem out of place with her previous assertions of being uncomfortable with his admiration, but a purely descriptive tone about the continued unwanted affection seems equally out of place.

Her pop quiz on Wuthering Heights is easy, as well we would expect a pop quiz to be if the teacher's goal is simply to determine if the students are on-track for their reading assignments. After all, Bella has read the book once before and now again this weekend. In the same vein, it's not surprising that Bella is more comfortable in Forks than she had previously feared; considering that she thought Forks would be "literally [her] personal hell on Earth", it stands to reason that the reality would be less onerous than her imagination led her to believe. Still, there are two very different ways to interpret these statements of ease and comfort: either Bella is being mature and adapting nicely to her new circumstances, or she's being somewhat smug and melodramatic with her internal exclamations that the test is so simple for her and she's adapting so very well.

   Mike caught up to us as we walked in the doors, laughing, with ice melting the spikes in his hair. He and Jessica were talking animatedly about the snow fight as we got in line to buy food. I glanced toward that table in the corner out of habit. And then I froze where I stood. There were five people at the table.
   Jessica pulled on my arm.
   “Hello? Bella? What do you want?”
   I looked down; my ears were hot. I had no reason to feel self-conscious, I reminded myself. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
   “What’s with Bella?” Mike asked Jessica.
   “Nothing,” I answered. “I’ll just get a soda today.” I caught up to the end of the line.
   “Aren’t you hungry?” Jessica asked.
   “Actually, I feel a little sick,” I said, my eyes still on the floor.

Against all odds, the boy who was out of school for a week has suddenly returned!

I have mixed feelings about this scene. On the one hand, I'm already on record saying that Bella was perfectly justified in being unsettled by a large muscular man throwing hateful glares at her in Biology class and being socially unacceptable and totally disruptive. I also, having acid reflux issues of my own, fully understand that stress can cause stomach problems to flare up and make having lunch impossible or ill-advisable.

On the other hand, Bella has had a full week to rationalize the Biology incident. The other Cullens haven't said or done anything hostile to her, even though they've run into her briefly outside of class. Charlie has expressed his strong opinion that the Cullens are all good kids, well behaved and without ever getting into a lick of trouble during their stay in Forks. There's certainly something to be said for trusting one's instincts and listening to your own concerns, but there's another something to be said for analyzing a situation and coming up with plausible alternatives.

I mean, what's more likely? That the Cullens have been involved in a careful masquerade of perfect, law-abiding behavior but that Bella's unique scent was an almost irresistible siren call to Edward's vampiric tastes? Or that the Cullens are perfectly normal people and Edward had an allergic reaction to Bella's strawberry-scented shampoo and he was home all week sick from his chemical sensitivity? I'm just saying.

And despite my personal empathy for appetite problems in a stressful situation, I strongly dislike Bella's immediate disdain for food in light of Edward's mere appearance in the school cafeteria. There is a long and complicated history of food and eating in girl-directed media, and the usual stereotype is that when flustered and upset, appetite is the first thing to go for good girls. Since quite a few things are flustering and upsetting in YA literature, this has the side-effect of showcasing a pattern of unhealthy eating behavior to the reader. Sometimes this is even explicitly called out as a good thing for weight loss, as though being "too forgetful" or "too flustered" or "too upset" to regularly eat is a valid and healthy way to live.

So far, we have only seen food in the Twilight novel under the following situations:

  1. Bella in the cafeteria being too absorbed in the Cullens to enjoy her food.
  2. The Cullens in the cafeteria, openly not eating and described as thin, lithe, graceful, attractive.
  3. Bella in the cafeteria being too afraid of seeing Edward to enjoy her food.
  4. Bella at dinner with Charlie; Charlie has seconds, but Bella implicitly does not.
  5. Bella in the cafeteria being too shocked to see Edward to even attempt to eat food.

This is not a trend that I like. Not every novel has to be a foodie novel with lavish descriptions of each meal, but at the same time neither am I comfortable with some of the body-fear that I see developing in text thus far. Bella compares herself to the physical figure of Rosalie and notes that merely being in the same room with the model-esque woman causes her self-esteem to dip; the few mentions of food in the novel are really anti-mentions -- the food is mentioned specifically because it isn't being eaten or enjoyed.

A novel for a YA female audience doesn't need to be this way; a novel about vampires shouldn't be this way. Enjoyment of food is something that sets Bella apart from the vampires in her life; by taking time to highlight the sensual pleasures of food, S.Meyer could potentially develop a tension in both Bella's mind and the reader's -- is it worth giving up all the joys of being alive in exchange for love and immortality? One of the things that I personally dislike about getting older is that my taste buds seem to be getting more bland and jaded; Bella, on the other hand, is facing the rest of her life where every meal is the exact same three choices: human blood with a side of monstrous guilt, animal blood which is utterly unsatisfying, or human food that tastes like a pile of dirt. 

A large part of our lives boils down to the procurement, preparation, and eating of food. We work to earn money to buy food. We come home and we prepare the food that we earned through our labor. We eat the food. Those of us who are especially fortunate and can afford to do so will usually expend the extra money, time, and effort to make the food enjoyable to our personal tastes. Food is what makes us human, and is one of the most defining differences between humans and vampires. From a literary perspective, vampires are vampires because they drink blood instead of eating human fare, just in the same way as zombies are zombies because they eat human flesh or human brains instead of human food. Sure, there are other characteristics that set the literary vampire apart from humans, but the change in appetite is one characteristic that is almost essential to the vampire definition.

By blowing past these differences between the-Bella-that-is and the-Bella-that-will-be with the usual body-fear of "I'm too distressed to eat my food, and as an implied side-benefit to my situational fasting I'll fit into a socially acceptable dress size" so common to YA girl novels, S. Meyer is missing a major point of difference between Bella's current life and her future one: a life where food is easy to procure, requires no preparation at all, fills you up for days on end, and yet is completely without pleasure or variety.

This isn't a small point, but S. Meyer seems to think it is.


Nathaniel said...

I've figured out part of why I hate Bella so much.

She is the perfect Good Girl.

Good Girls don't like to eat. Good Girls self sacrifice. Good Girls do the house work. Good Girls go out of their way for the benefit of others. Good Girls worry about what others think.

Good Girls can also be incredibly snide and contemptuous, so long as it remains unvoiced or only said behind someones back. Good Girls can wearily sneer at the attentions of those not meeting their standards, so long as a smile remains plastered on for the duration of the interaction.

Most of all, Good Girls never feel passion or even feel alive for anything but their mate. Their partner is the center of their lives. Even if he is a sneering piece of shit.

JP said...

I think between Ana and Daniel, you win the internets today.

Great post, and comment.

Ana Mardoll said...

Aw...! I don't think I've ever won half an internet before. I'm very flattered and excited! :)

Amarie said...

Ana, I've been reading your work for a while, now. And I must say that I L.O.V.E you. I can't even say why because the list would be too long, LOL!
About this food...
It’s always been my opinion that Mrs. Meyer is adverse to the concept of the 'self'. Hence, why one of the main themes of her book is selflessness/sacrifice (which I personally believe that she doesn't quite grasp the true concept of). That being said, she probably doesn't see anything wrong with Bella's refusal to eat (or not eating as much as a male character). She sees it as a rightful denial of the self. It kind of ties in with what Nathaniel said about "Good Girls"; everyone comes first and foremost...and you come at the very bottom of that list. At least, on a surface level. *winks* So, when you don't take care of the self (by not eating, for one), that's a form of sacrifice. Maybe it’s a foreshadowing of all the sacrifice that Bella will do, later on in the novel.
Personally, I completely agree with you…and that’s not just because I’m a girl that loves eating in real life. The way I see it is that Mrs. Meyer paints sacrifice/selflessness and selfishness in the extreme….which I see in all four of her books. But for now, I’ll stick to examples only in the first book. For example, Bella 1.) doesn’t want people to spend money/attention on her…so she whines when Edward takes her out to prom, 2.) decides not to tell anyone that she’s going to be with Edward for a day (and even lies to cover it up), and 3. runs away from Alice and Jasper to meet James.
In my eyes, these are how in our endeavors to be selfless…we become selfish. Because…1.) her mood almost ruins the fun for Edward; she seems to be so focused on her own discomfort that she barely deigns to fathom why Edward wants to go to prom in the first place (kind of like how you noticed she wanted Charlie to take the school pictures down), 2.) though I detest Charlie and Renee (they are the FIRST literary characters that I can honestly say I HATE)…Bella is putting their child in insurmountable danger. In addition to that, she risks Edward’s conscience never being somewhat salvaged by the fact that he’ll get caught. 3.) Once again, she’s putting herself in danger…while her new friends pay the price, as well. Not to mention that there were several other options…
So, that’s my take on Mrs. Meyer’s portrayal of Bella’s eating habits, and why I agree that it’s wrong and unhealthy. :)

Cupcakedoll said...

I am reading this post while preparing spaghetti in tomato sauce, and wondering if the delicious fulfilling nature of this food is similar to how blood feels to vampires. 

For anyone who's read Breaking Dawn-- does Bella ever drink blood on camera?  Does she describe how it feels?  'Cause skipping the whole "loss of the joy of real food" is a criminal sin in writing a vampire novel.  Food is the perfect metaphor for the richness of life as an ordinary person, which can be given up but should not be given up lightly or without recognition.  (and the YA fairy books should be using it too- if you eat fairy food you're usually cut off from eating real food again.)  But the fun of a supersensual blood meal scene can at least show the vampire gets something in return for being eternally denied ice cream and chocolate. 

Unrelated: I'm writing a not-very-good story about bioengineered supersoldiers and the super-upgraded soldiers all have very pale skin, "white as sugar, with a faint glitter in the light."   It was weeks after first writing that description that I realized... they look like Cullens!  the Cullens have invaded my story!  How the heck did they get in there?!  Oh the shame of it! 

Ana Mardoll said...

& Amarie , that's a really fascinating breakdown of the selfless/selfish divide and I love it! It makes a lot of sense, and it also ties very well into Meyer's "The Host" which is all about selflessness and non-resistance to your enemies.

I also love that you call out WHY this behavior is excessive and unhealthy -- that the "selflessness" takes over and becomes an end in itself instead of a MEANS to an end. Bella forgets that there was (or should have been) a *reason* to not want birthday presents or a big fuss over prom and it instead becomes all about her and how she was trying to be low maintenance, darnit. This makes a lot of sense... and also fits with the religious subtext, too, I think. I love it!

& Cupcakedoll, should we offer Cullen exorcism services for your story? ;) (If anyone calls you on it, you could just say you were inspired by the shiny Tron latex: )

That's a really good point about fairy food, and I wonder if it too gets blown past. I really like how in True Blood (at least so far) Sookie has resisted suggestions that she become a vampire. She doesn't want to give up the sun and her reproductive abilities and enjoying food and everything else that comes with being, well, herself!

I wonder if we can draw some kind of cultural conclusion in all this. Americans tend to frown upon sensualizing the sensations of eating (FAT!) and sunlight (CANCER! Plus, who has the time to sunbathe anymore? Isn't there work you could be doing?) and reproduction (GROSS!) as a process. On the other hand, we tend to highly value sexuality (and everyone knows that vampires have the best sex) and immortality.

Could I give up food for immortality? I kind of don't think I could, but then again I consider food to be practically a religious personal experience. ;)

Brin Bellway said...

Could I give up food for immortality? I kind of don't think I could,
but then again I consider food to be practically a religious personal
experience. ;)

I'd definitely want a while to think about it and/or indulge in the pleasures of mortal life while I still can. But then, I can probably afford that. Being mortal always carries risk, but I'm seventeen, have no chronic illnesses, and take no drugs stronger than chocolate. Some improvement could certainly be made in the diet-and-exercise area, but relatively speaking my short-term risk of death is quite low (knock on wood).
I might choose differently outside of a thought experiment, but I'm thinking a few more years first, then immortality.

Ana Mardoll said...

I might choose differently outside of a thought experiment, but I'm thinking a few more years first, then immortality.

I can see it now:

Twilight 5, Bella's Bucket List!

Except of course after Breaking Dawn it would be too late. Twilight 3-and-a-half, maybe? 

chris the cynic said...

I'm now picturing a vampire and a human having a conversation about the human completing her bucket list.

The vampire doesn't understand.  I see him as being like Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean if he realized that the curse was never going to be lifted, thus he'd never get to enjoy his apple and, after centuries of wanting to enjoy just one more apple, just one more bite, finally decided that he wished he'd never had a damn apple in the first place.

The vampire feels like doing the bucket list is just setting oneself up for needless pain and it's better not to try non-vampire things because you can't miss what you never had.

The human doesn't look at it that way.  At all.

Amarie said...

Aww! Thank you, Ana! :D
And Bella’s behavior isn’t just a contradiction of seflessness/selfishness…I also see it as a contradiction of humility/attention-getting. She doesn’t want a birthday party, for example (in New Moon) because all the attention will be focused on her. Yet, her bad mood and whining draws a LOT of attention to her. She’s like a massive black hole in the midst of positive lights. So, in her endeavor to stay out of the spotlight…she becomes the spotlight.
And one thing that gets me about the Twilight series is that not ONCE does Bella stop and question, “Wait…does this REALLY bother me as much as I’m letting on? What am I trying to accomplish here by being so neurotic?” To me…that wouldn’t just be selflessness, but also MATURITY. Even if you sincerely believe that birthdays are a waste of time…the LEAST you could do is just suck it up, smile and say THANK. YOU. In that manner, you put their (the Cullens’) want above your own discomfort. To me, THAT is a definition of selflessness. And, as an author, it takes a lot more thinking to accomplish making a character like that.
If I may…there’s a book-an entire series-that I absolutely love. It’s the sixth book in the series, but one of its main themes is selflessness. *winks* And it rightfully shows how severely neglecting the self can get very, very, very ugly. You can’t know how badly I dream of mailing it to Stephenie Meyer!!! Ehhh…if she can handle it.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

S.Meyer could potentially develop a tension in both Bella's mind and the
reader's -- is it worth giving up all the joys of being alive in
exchange for love and immortality?

From what I've seen, Meyer doesn't want to develop any such tension. Becoming a vampire, in her mind, seems to be the bestest thing ever.

Nathaniel said...

Sure being a vampire is the best thing ever. They don't poop, don't fart, don't sweat, never stink or need to shave, never have embarrassing liquids flow out of them, never have red circles under their eyes from the flu, and are endlessly graceful and gorgeous to boot.

They are sparkling statues, and Meyer seems to endorse that as perfection. Life without all the messy biology part of it.

Silver Adept said...

There's also the socioeconomic status of food as well. The Cullens are quite wealthy and disdain food (because they're vampires, not because school lunch is beneath them, because that would be imperfection, and the Cullens are perfect). If Forks is supposed to be the rural small-town that S. Meyer wants it to be, there's a good chance that many of the families there are just scraping by and would be eating low-cost, probably lower-quality but higher-quantity foods because they have to make their budgets stretch, even with government support and the free and reduced-cost school lunch programme.

Charlie's the chief of police, and with his FOOD MONEY jar relatively full (but of unknown denomination bills and coins) and his regular presence at the diner suggests that he can afford a reasonably middle-class lifestyle as a single divorced parent. Bella's shopping spree when she arrived hasn't had any noticeable effects on the family finances, either.

Yet S. Meyer, for whatever reason, studiously avoids having the Swan family eating anything that resembles the kind of food they would normally be eating for their income level. Charlie eats diner food and has apparently not learned to cook for himself in sixteen years, and Isabella is conveniently either near the Cullen that gives her indigestion, has some incident happen during the meal period that cuts it short before she can consume a lot, or deliberately makes mealtime something so boring and conversation-less that it can be glossed over.

I wonder why. Maybe some part of it can be chalked up to Bella spending a lot of time with Renee, either with stress taking over needs like eating, or with Renee imparting a strong social pressure for Bella to eat only as little as needed to maintain an attractively rail-thin body. We're supposed to believe the other part is that   Charlie can't cook worth a [bleep], and the universal assumption that cafeteria food is inferior to everything but starvation.

Or maybe it's that S. Meyer doesn't want to talk about class issues and how Bella might be a food snob? Or how she notices that everyone else seems to be bringing sandwiches and chips, while she either eats at the cafeteria or has leftovers from last night's cooking? Surely someone as judgmental as Isabella Swan would be noticing what the general level of gourmet (or lack thereof) is in Forks and making mental comparisons to Arizona?

Ana Mardoll said...

Or maybe
it's that S. Meyer doesn't want to talk about class issues and how Bella
might be a food snob? Or how she notices that everyone else seems to be
bringing sandwiches and chips, while she either eats at the cafeteria
or has leftovers from last night's cooking? Surely someone as judgmental
as Isabella Swan would be noticing what the general level of gourmet
(or lack thereof) is in Forks and making mental comparisons to Arizona?

"I noticed the cafeteria served Salisbury Steak again, which meant that the cafeteria menu repeated every week like clockwork. Back in Phoenix, there would have been more variety, with a few 'special menu days', but I guessed a small town school operated differently. Mechanically, I picked up a tray, wondering if I could possibly survive the school year. Forks was literally my hell on earth."

Something like that? :P

Loquat said...

I've been kicking around a vampire story concept for a few years, and the food question is sort of a second-order Major Issue for the vampires (first-order Major Issues being questions like "should I even continue to exist in this fallen state" and "should I eat people or subsist on animals")

One of my central vampire characters, a guy who gets turned against his will at the beginning of the story, is really annoyed that his favorite beer now tastes terrible and unsettles his stomach. He also used to be fond of cheese sandwiches with pickles, which he can now barely stand the smell of.

Another character, a woman who's been a vampire for many years and has recently managed to leave a pro-eating-people vampire faction, has come to the above guy's town to work on her project of coming up with ways to make animal blood more appetizing. She even plans to open up a restaurant once she comes up with a decent menu. (Because a) while animal blood may be less enjoyable than human, there should be plenty of variety between species, b) there's bound to be something vampires can add to blood to act as spice, and c) an animal's diet affects the flavor of its meat, so why not the flavor of its blood too? You'll never enjoy an apple again, but you can taste it in the fruity flavor of apple-fed pig!)

Ana Mardoll said...

I love that idea, Loquat. Mouth feel is important, too, and possibly even more so in a liquid blood diet. I wonder what could be done to provide a variety of thickness, lumpiness, etc.

*looks at tomato soup lunch, feels slightly ill now*


Joshua said...

I had to go get a cookie.

Loquat said...

Mouth-feel is definitely a challenge, possibly even bigger than flavor. You can get lumpiness easily enough by clotting, and more-or-less solid by cooking (as with blood sausage) or drying (scabs), but blood's pretty much never going to be genuinely dry and crispy. So I'd imagine the crispy/crunchy feel of an apple or cracker would be the big thing vampires would crave.

Which leads to the question - what exactly is in blood that vampires need, and can modern technology separate that from the stuff that makes blood gluey?

Silver Adept said...

Ana Mardoll ...

...point, Ana. But that still seems to be the only direct reference going on - everything else is Conveniently Interrupted or glossed over entirely after that point. Are we just to assume that Isabella is a gourmet cook caught in a meat-and-potatoes hell? Considering that she's supposedly uncoordinated, I can't see cooking as being something that she has sufficient skill in to be snobby. Unless she also managed to find the money to pay for a four-star chef with Renee's earnings...

Cupcakedoll said...

The vampire restaraunt is a great idea, Loquat!  And new to me, though i have read a book where people of different nationalities tasted different, and people with particular diseases tasted different.  So if you wanted, the people-eating vampires could start their own restaraunt, with unfortunate folks from different lands, and maybe a leukemia victim or two, chained up in the basement...

I was pondering the eating=fat thing, and realized that the idea of fat=ugly is a whole lot more ingrained in the mindset than I liked to think.  And I think it's worse for writers.  Creating television or another visual media you can just draw your character or hire an actor of any shape you like, but a writer must use WORDS to describe the character.  And then you're stuck with the connotations of those words.  A fat character can be "fat but beautiful" but will always be "fat but" and then will be assumed not to be an action girl because of being fat.  I don't know that any writer could make "fat and beautiful" or "fat action character" work.   In real life fat people can be beautiful or have adventures, but in words it doesn't work.  Makes me grouchy.

Jenny Islander said...

Once again I am reminded of the zillion times these themes were handled better in previous vampire stories.  Forever Knight, one of my earliest fandoms, spawned a buttload of fanfic exploring this very theme.  In canon, not only do people have different particular tastes, but it's possible to garner other people's experiences through consuming their blood.  So, for example, you could pay a discreet musician to have blood drawn while playing a favorite piece, bottle that experience, and give it to a vampire to enjoy.  Vampires who do not glory in their status as the ultimate predators deliberately cultivate their own artistic abilities in an attempt to produce more than they consume; one character goes to watch the sun rise when she realizes that she has lost the ability to write plays.

Animal blood is supposed to be flat and boring, but fans have speculated that a vial of (for example) tiger's blood, presumably drawn at an animal sanctuary or zoo, could knock a vampire flat on his butt.  But even the most intoxicating blood doesn't carry the simple pleasure of food.  One episode has the deeply conflicted star temporary able to enjoy food again and practically having an orgasm over something cheap and plain.  Fans have added that the poor bastard, having been "brought across" in 1228, has never tasted chocolate.

Emmers said...

I came upon your blog by searching for Twilight and food.  I'm currently re-reading the series, and I feel like the food issues are pretty interesting, and no one else (in my quick Google search) seems to have discussed them.  

Bella talks  frequently about preparing food  (in way more detail than seems necessary), but mostly discusses her own eating only to say she eats little or nothing, as you've pointed out.  I think it makes sense that S. Meyers is herself a bit overweight - if you yourself struggle with eating more than you "should" to be thin, you might make your idealized and virtuous self-character completely disinterested in food (and Bella's happy preparation of food for her dad, despite not being interested herself, would be a virtue to someone who is a stay-at-home mom who is stuck preparing a lot of food for her husband and kids).

Rikalous said...

I realize I'm two months late here, but on the off chance you actually see this comment I'd like to bring Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett to your attention. It's about a group of soldiers led by Sgt. Jackrum. Jackrum is described as "not just running to fat but bounding, leaping, and vaulting to obesity" and such a legendary badass that one character brags about his dad landing almost three hits on him in a barfight.

Ana Mardoll said...

That sounds seriously awesome, thank you. I'm adding that to the To Read list. It's so rare to find good depictions of fat people in books, particularly fantasy books where everyone is usually automatically svelte and lovely!

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