Last Call: Let’s talk about the role of food in TV and movies

Illustration for article titled Last Call: Let’s talk about the role of food in TV and movies
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Chris Hewitt, the theater critic at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, published an essay the other day about food in movies. Specifically about how “movies don’t have to be about food to be about food.” A character’s response to food, he argues, is a quick way of conveying information about who they are and where they came from.

Think of the relationship between Elio in “Call Me by Your Name” and a very ripe peach, or the wholesome milk with which Cary Grant intends to poison Joan Fontaine in “Suspicion.” Of how the iconic line “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli” encapsulates the importance of family, even in the violent world of “The Godfather.” How Jimmy Cagney weaponizes breakfast in “The Public Enemy.” How Jessie Royce Landis reveals nouveau riche coarseness in “To Catch a Thief” by stubbing out her cigarette in a sunny-side-up egg.

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Hewitt also notes the bizarre tendency of some movies to cast very thin actors as characters who are supposed to eat all the time, like Julia Roberts as a restaurant critic in My Best Friend’s Wedding. (Though, to be fair, nothing else about restaurant criticism is portrayed accurately in that movie, either.)

Anyway, that got me thinking about what food reveals about movie characters, but the first example that came to mind was from TV, poor Betty Draper in the early seasons of Mad Men who is doomed to sit at the kitchen table watching her children eat, ostensibly waiting for her philandering husband to come home, but really subsisting on a diet of cigarettes so she’ll stay thin and attractive, which is her only social currency (even though she speaks Italian!). Most of the time, Betty is either out of it or a raging bitch, but it’s only because she’s hungry! (And then of course, in a later season when she lets herself go and is neither thin nor blonde, all her fears are realized.) What are some of your favorite movie and TV food moments?

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

This is kind of a classic now.