Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 13, 2017
Exploring food in film and literature
To keep with the Chinese theme of the movie shown in class, Harry Kaiserian prepares a dessert of almond snow, mandarine oranges and fortune cookies.
by Monique Labbe
Food and dining scenes are used by many authors and filmmakers, but what do those things mean to the larger story in film and literature? That is something Harry Kaiserian brings to the forefront with a six-week class on the subject at the Wilson Museum’s Hutchins Education Center.
“We see food all the time in movies, some of the most important scenes happen while food is being consumed. Why does this happen? What does the food mean? Those are some of the questions we’re trying to answer during our discussions,” said Kaiserian.
Kaiserian’s interest in the topic was sparked by an article titled, The Food of Sherlock Holmes. The author extracted dining scenes from every Sherlock Holmes novel and talked at length about what the meaning of those scenes were to the overall context of the story.
“It was fascinating, and so I started reading about the subject more and more and started to learn that these scenes often give us an idea about who these characters are, what the food represents,” he said.
Food, and the consumption of food, can mean different things to each scene, according to Kaiserian. A feast in a William Shakespeare play put on by the king, with place settings, five courses and fancy outfits, can be a way for the hierarchy to show its power to those in attendance. In a romance novel or movie, a dinner is often the first step to the beginning of the main characters’ love.
“Think about the dynamic of the typical family dinner,” said Kaiserian. “You have the mom, the father, the children, sitting around the table to a meal prepared by the mother. They talk about their day, their goals, it’s a positive experience. Then think about what happens when something disrupts this, like the daughter’s boyfriend whom the parents don’t like. This throws off the balance, the dynamic is ruined. This all happens at the dinner table, over food.”
Kaiserian is an avid reader and movie goer, and as a cook, the program combines three of his favorite activities.
“It’s really a very interesting subject to study, if you think about it,” he said. “So much of our lives revolves around food. We eat three meals a day. The basic motive for our purpose [in the class] is to enhance the appreciation of the movie or book by understanding the role food plays.”
Two more classes are scheduled this month, one on April 18 and the last one on April 25. The class is from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hutchins Education Center.