Literature can create memorable meals for all the best reasons and all the worse reasons too. Sometimes the most wonderful cooks in literature lose their loyal culinary fan base due to some of their unsavory delights. The following literary chefs should have the power to make readers feel pangs of hunger but might only succeed in making their stomachs turn.
Whistle Stop Café
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
Whistle Stop Café is an institution in the small Alabama town of Whistle Stop. While trying the fried green tomatoes might prove to be nothing but an enjoyable experience, the delicious yet horrifying barbeque is enough to make a person go vegetarian.
The secret’s not only in the sauce at the Whistle Stop Café, but also is in the choice of meat. In a case of the most atrocious of culinary crimes, the Whistle Stop fed human meat to its unsuspecting customers. There is some redemption for the small dinner since the cannibal BBQ plate special seemed to be a one shot deal needed to cover up the murder of Frank Bennett, Ruth’s abusive husband. However, even having just one human served in between a sandwich bun is one too many.
Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help tells the story of African American maids working in Mississippi in the 1960’s. A component of the novel is Minny Jackson providing cooking lessons for the hapless Celia Foote. As the two women develop a friendship, Minny reveals the secret to her terrible awful desert.
While Minny cooks wonderfully and people enjoy her cooking, she has a bit of a mean streak that may make one think twice before eating her cooking. One of Jackson’s specialties is a chocolate custard pie. When her former boss Hilly Holbrook spreads some lies and causes other troubles for Minny, her natural response is to bake the troublesome women a pie. This seems like a nice gesture until the reveal that her secret ingredient is, how do I put this gently… human feces.
No matter how good of a cook one is, it’s tough to trust the cook that serves poop pie as a form of retribution.
“The String of Pearls”
We’re entering cannibal territory because the musical and subsequent movie Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street started as a penny dreadful titled “The String of Pearls.” While the string of pearls is the title object, it is a fair statement to say that this story is all about pies, delicious but horrible pies.
Mrs. Lovett is the proprietor of a pie shop. Her meat and gravy pies are so popular that customers would prepay for the tasty treats in order to get a pie before they sold out. These booming sales help her business, but the fact that she didn’t have to pay for meat adds to her profits even more.
Her pie shop happens to have a connection to the local barbershop owned by one Sweeney Todd, the man also known as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Sweeney Todd kills the customers that come into his barbershop, presumably after getting paid, and Mrs. Lovett receives a free supply of meat in her shop. However, when people find out that the meat pies Mrs. Lovett sells just happen to be made of human (while many patrons are mid-bite), her business is over. It is just a common fact that anytime a cook intentionally serves human to unknowing people, they aren’t trustworthy.
Tita de la Garza
Like Water for Chocolate
Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate features character Tita de la Garza, a young girl dealing with an overbearing mother and an unrequited love for her brother in law. Her emotional state has a close relationship to her style of cooking. Mainly, when Tita cooks, she transfers all her emotions whether good or bad into her food.
When Tita makes a wedding cake for her sister, her heartache, loss, and tears pours into the frosting and affects every guest at the wedding to the point that they get sick and believe they were poisoned. This same cake affected Nacha, the family cook, so much that in her heartache she lost her strength and was found dead shortly after the wedding. What truly adds to the unpredictable nature of Tita’s gift is the wide range of emotions she can impart on food. Later in the story Tita fills a meal with lustful thoughts and it isn’t long before everyone on the ranch is making passionate love.
Food should be sensational and evoke some strong feelings, but the risk or not knowing how happy, sad, bitter, or frisky Tita feels makes her a danger in the kitchen. Just don’t make her angry, you wouldn’t like her cooking when she’s angry.
Even though Thomas Harris’ creation Hannibal Lector is not a cook by trade, his culinary exploits and skill range well into the realm of gourmet. He even has a talent for pairing wine with meals, serving liver with fava beans and an Amarone. It is Amarone, not Chianti as the movie suggests.
The main problem with Hannibal is that almost one hundred percent of the population would be turned off with his choice of meat. Hannibal Lector is one of the most well known cannibals in fiction. Serving and eating human is an unorthodox form of cookery, but even if someone doesn’t mind Hannibal’s choice of ingredients, it’s hard to truly know Hannibal’s intentions when he asks if he can make you dinner.
If one does avoid being on the plate there is the possibility that you know the main course. A flautist for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra became part of a meal served for the conductor and president of the orchestra at one of Hannibal’s many shindigs. No free meal is worth finding out if you have great taste in friends.
Even fast food in novels can’t be trusted. Papa Song is about as real a person as Ronald McDonald, because he is the embodiment of a fast food corporation in David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas.
Before even mentioning the food, the class struggle between the pure blood natural born humans and the fabricant clones is enough to have someone call the news about equal rights. Clones work most of the day, aren’t allowed to show any sign of free will, and never leave the restaurant. They exists as organic machinery that do jobs pure bloods don’t want to do. Beyond this mistreatment of fabricated humans, there is also the startling source of meat for the customers.
After fabricants complete their years of good service they receive a trip to Papa Song’s Golden Ark, which sounds like an awesome amusement park but it is not. The only ride this ark has is a slaughterhouse production line. Fabricants bodies become soap for fellow fabricants and food products for the restaurant in a sick but efficient food cycle. This particular act of cannibalism brings up the question if it was can call it cannibalism if we eat cloned human meat.
The answer is yes.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka, the reclusive owner of a candy factory in Roald Dahl’s children book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has a bevy of sins stacked on his plate. While Willy Wonka’s chocolate and candy has a reputation for deliciousness, the inner workings of his factory may make readers turn to a better business bureau listing rather than a sugary treat.
There is something that is utterly careless about the way Wonka runs his company. The one time he lets people visit his company, Augustus Gloop laps chocolate straight from the chocolate pond that is the source of all the Wonka bars. At no time does Willy Wonka show any concern about removing the saliva contaminated chocolate from the production cycle even after Gloop falls into the giant batch of chocolate.
In addition to this loose sense of health code enforcement, there is the distasteful way Wonka breaks labor laws (and probably some international trafficking laws) with the Oompa Loompas; chocolate is not a fair wage. Lastly, what proves even more shocking than Wonka’s other offences is his startling source of snozzberries (the short story “My Uncle Oswald” by Roald Dahl will solve that mystery for you). Willy Wonka is just the kind of factory owner children and adults should run from in sheer terror.