Yes, I know Shakespeare didn’t write it that way in Twelfth Night. But I’m definitely not the first to make the connection between food and love. I wrote this article awhile ago about the role of food in romance novels and have broadened its scope here today. In crime fiction as well as in romance fiction, people’s relationships are at the core of the story. Many mystery novels contain love stories, and even cozy mysteries employ the heroine sleuth’s bakery or restaurant or cupcake business as the set-up for the mystery.

Author Mellanie Szereto (Love Served Hot) says, “Besides love-making, eating is one of the most intimate activities people can share. Many family traditions (holidays, weddings, funerals, family reunions, etc.) include gathering for meals and sharing food, making sustenance more than a basic human need.” Even in a romantic suspense, the hero and heroine have to eat sometime. Preparing food can bring the hero and heroine closer, creating a vital connection between them. Sharing food brings people together and can build a relationship, but it also provides the opportunity for conflict and/or insight into character in any kind of fiction.

Turkish Vegetable Stew

Sharing a meal can break down barriers. In my book Twice a Target, Holt tries to avoid Maddy, who’s serving as nanny for his orphaned nephew, but when she cooks Turkish Summer Vegetable Stew and offers him a taste, she penetrates his wall. Judi Phillips (Ghost of a Chance) stresses that food scenes provide an opportunity to add sensory levels of smells and tastes. Food feeds the mind and soul—and heart—with comfort, texture, flavor, and smell. Experiencing the cooking of a savory pot roast or an apple pie (my husband’s favorite) can associate that aroma in the man’s psyche as part of the woman who cooked it for him. Applying the five senses in a story scene creates context, building reality for the reader.

A woman preparing food for a man is the most primitive form of nurturing. Even more powerful emotionally is when the hero cooks for the heroine or feeds her by taking her to a restaurant or bringing her food. As a basic mating ritual, it’s part of providing for the mate, the male as provider, and not just with food. It demonstrates he pays attention to her needs and likes and will meet them. It’s a primordial yet binding aspect of the courting dance. Virginia Kantra (Carolina Girl) tells me that in her books, the hero always feeds the heroine, partly because of what I’ve just said. She adds, “Sharing a meal provides a resting moment in the plot.”

Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz Con Pollo

In my book Never Surrender, Rick prepares his Cuban family’s Arroz con Pollo, or rice with chicken, for Juliana, when they’re hiding out from the bad guys. Preparing the meal provides that resting moment, gives them a chance to share their lives and is, yes, seductive, especially with a bottle of wine. In Once Burned, Jake brings Lani a blueberry pie from a local baker, which evokes shared childhood memories. Lani’s near orgasmic enjoyment of her slice leads to something more than pie. In my unfinished manuscript, “Cleo’s Necklace,” as they’re fleeing the bad guys on a Greek island, Thomas buys cheese and bread for Cleo to eat in the car. She is totally touched by his concern and it warms her that he always seems to be feeding her.

If anyone is interested in my recipes, you can download them at http://www.susanvaughan.com. Rick’s Arroz con Pollo is at the bottom of the Never Surrender page, and Maddy’s Turkish Summer Vegetable Stew is at the bottom of Twice a Target. Sorry, you’re on your own for blueberry pie. I’d love to have people share ideas about food in novels, or, hey, why not your real-life examples.

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  1. Gram says:

    I clicked on the titles of the books mentioned above and scrolled to the bottom of the page – after the excerpt, and nothing. Help!

  2. Gram says:

    Sorry – I wrote too soon…Gram

  3. Pingback: Our Christmas Dinner | Maine Crime Writers

  4. Love this post, Susan. I’ve been criticized for having my characters eat too much. In TRUTH BE TOLD, releasing this spring, the characters are at home during the Christmas holidays. The main characters haven’t seen their parents in a while and there is a good bit of eating. I think I managed to cut one eating scene, but it is the holidays and that’s what we do, right? Much to the shame of our scales. LOL
    I love the explanation of the man taking care of the woman’s needs. I’ll be checking out Rick’s Arroz Con Pollo. Remember eating it when I lived in Puerto Rico for a time as a kid. Yummy. I enjoy your books.

  5. Kathleen March says:

    I’ve taught courses on Hispanic food and culture, which included food in film and in literature. A great topic, full of meaning and suggestive innuendoes.

    Oddly enough, I don”y feel much thrill reading about characters who are drinking coffee that is too hot or are smoking…

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