“Ice-Cream Man”

Food and Sex: The Politics of Exchange in Lynn Coady’s “Ice Cream Man”

by Liana Cusmano

Chicken, ice cream, soup. In Lynn Coady’s short story “Ice Cream Man,” food is exchanged for companionship without allowing for meaningful connection between individuals. The guy at the canteen has been offering the protagonist an ice-cream sandwich – food – for years, making the “same joke since [she was] seven years old” (34). The proverbial ice- cream sandwich is a stand-in for sex, and the guy at the canteen does eventually “give [her] the ice-cream sandwich he’s been talking about all these years” (35). He repays the sex that she routinely gives him with free snacks from the canteen and with rum (37). Food is thus exchanged for company, specifically for sex, but the relationship between the two individuals is based solely on intercourse, involving no depth, intimacy, or intellectual closeness. Later, the man hints that the girl ought to bring him fried chicken (39); suddenly she has become the primary beneficiary of the relationship, and he expects his offer of sex to be repaid with food. He is used to this method of exchange: “Every woman I’ve known has always tried to do nice things for me” (39).


The Soup Trade

The girl’s distant father has a similar attitude when he wants her to eat soup with him; he expects his culinary thoughtfulness to be compensated with company, although “he doesn’t even quite know why that is” (43). The relationships the girl has with the two men in her life are thus based on trading food for human companionship, but she shares no meaningful connection with her so-called boyfriend or with her father – in spite of all the soup and chicken involved.


Coady, Lynn. “Ice Cream Man.” Play the Monster Blind: Stories. Toronto: Doubleday, 2000. 27-43. Print.

Photos by Alexia Moyer


Why Half a Grapefruit?

In Alice Munro’s “Half a Grapefruit,” the fruit is an occasion around which Rose hopes to distance herself from her classmates and from her less-than-desirable West Hanratty origins. No one else had thought to mention grapefruit as breakfast fare during that somewhat ill-conceived classroom discussion.

This grapefruit anecdote, as Sarah Contreras-Wolfe points out below, is also a tool for Munro to demonstrate ways in which Rose and step-mother Flo (gingerly) negotiate their relationship.

Text by Sarah Contreras-Wolfe

Flo and Rose bond by hiding their weaknesses from one another.

Rose never talks to Flo about the grapefruit incident. Rose would not share something that would reflect poorly on herself: “Half-a-grapefruit she never got to hear about. Rose would not have told her anything in which she did not play a superior, an onlooker’s part. Pitfalls were for others, Flo and Rose agreed” (Munro 54). Munro includes the story about the half a grapefruit to demonstrate Flo and Rose’s mutual belief that personal hardships should not be discussed between the two of them, not even when it comes to Rose’s father’s illness.

When Rose is talking to Billy Pope about her father, she speaks candidly, which she would not do with Flo: “’Not if he has lung cancer,’ Rose said firmly. She had never said that before and certainly Flo had not said it” (66). When Flo is telling a story about a woman with second sight who suggested her mother eat green onions to help with her nerves, she is also direct, like Rose: “It wasn’t nerves at all it was cancer, so what good they did I don’t know:’ Flo’s voice climbed· and hurried on, embarrassed that she had let that out” (69).

What doesn’t get said in these conversations between Rose and Flo is the meat, if you will, of this story.



Munro, Alice. “Half a Grapefruit.” Who Do You Think You Are? Toronto: Penguin, 1996. 51-72. Print.

Mills, Amanda. “Whole ceramic bowls each containing a half a grapefruit free stock picture”. 2015. CC0. <a href=”http://www.public-domain-image.com/free-images/still-life/whole-ceramic-bowls-each-containing-a-half-of-a-grapefruit&#8221; title=”Whole ceramic bowls each containing a half of a grapefruit public domain image”>Whole ceramic bowls each containing a half of a grapefruit</a>

Everybody’s Hungry: Food and Control in “Play the Monster Blind”

We are launching a second miniseries. Over the next few weeks we will be joined by students from Nathalie Cooke’s Canadian Literary Fare course (ENG 441, department of English, McGill) as they too are studying food scenes in Canadian literature this term.


Text by Carla Dean.

Food and familial power dynamics form the center of “Play the Monster Blind” by Lynn Coady; throughout the story, the struggles of various characters for power in their relationships are reflected by their eating and drinking habits. Characters who successfully control their food intake have power in the family unit; those who are controlled by food are disempowered.

John is a more powerful version of his father; he has overcome an eating disorder (4), whereas his father is incapable of controlling his drinking habits. An example of this dynamic is the restaurant incident, where the father causes a scene over “a good dry chip” (15). John, however, uses “‘[a] little thing out there called PR,’” (13) which really means a controlled approach, to much better effect. John’s interpersonal skills earn him far more social currency than his father’s drunken antics.

Bethany similarly mirrors Ann, whose lack of agency is clearly linked to her eating habits. Bethany is a self-described “big eater most of the time” (11) and earns the father’s approval because of her appetite (10), whereas Ann is a “meal-obsessed” recovering anorexic (11). Ann associates her stagnant, disappointing life circumstances with food; she throws up shellfish after a nightmare in which she “‘[is] just doing all the things [she’s] been doing all along’” (15). Ann’s blow to Bethany at the end of the novel, which turns her new ally against her, only happens because of excessive drinking—and Bethany, who does not lose control, tastes power (25).


Works Cited

Coady, Lynn. “Play the Monster Blind.” Play the Monster Blind: Stories. Toronto: Doubleday, 2000. 1-25. Print.

Kulesza, Michal. Movie Night. Digital image. Stock.tookapic.com. JPEG file. February 7th, 2016. <https://stock.tookapic.com/photos/21005&gt;.

Food in Canadian Film, Part 5: Les ordres

by Jonathan Motha-Pollock

The October Crisis followed the kidnapping of two government officials in Montreal by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau instituted the War Measures Act, bringing the Canadian military into the city and allowing the Montreal Police Department to detain 497 people without due process (Clément 167). The arrests largely targeted nationalists and those of the political left — those whose beliefs might align with the FLQ. Les ordres is Michel Brault’s fact-based retelling of this event. It is a docu-fiction that tells the story of five individuals among the many civilians who were wrongfully imprisoned during the October Crisis. The film chronicles the experiences of these five characters from the time they are arrested, to the injustices they suffer in prison, to the lasting effects after their release.

The following two scenes yoke food together with freedom. The one (food) stands in for the other (freedom or lack thereof).

In the first, a handcuffed Richard instructs his eldest son Sébastien to feed his infant brother cereal. Sébastien responds to his father’s orders, saying that his little brother will not want to eat cereal. His infant brother’s appetite is a matter of choice, desire, freedom, none of which applies to Richard, who is being taken to prison. Beyond this, however, Richard is also positioned as a prisoner in the way that he is constrained by the limits of the lens. The camera frames Richard with a medium shot — cutting off his legs as well as the top of his head — while he is being handcuffed. Additionally, the blocking of characters in the scene lends itself to a sense of enclosure: Richard is positioned between the two officers who arrest him; there is literally no way out. It is telling, then, that the cereal eater or abstainer in question is not once “captured” on film during the conversation about cereal. He is sitting in a nearby room, but he maintains his freedom, outside the frame.


The second scene depicts Clermont’s struggle to stay nourished while locked up in his prison cell. The tight shots of Clermont’s cell portray an image of a man with no room to move. Additionally, his cell bars stand in front of the camera, dividing him from the viewer. Clermont is given food that is inedible. Initially he tries to eat the porridge but vomits. He struggles to exercise agency by refusing to eat until actual food is provided. André Loiselle describes the prisoners’ refusal to eat as a matter of “try[ing] to maintain a sense of dignity in the face of horrendous humiliation” (108). Later, another inmate explains that the prison guards delay access to edible food so that when it is given, the guards appear as benefactors to the prisoners.


Reading food as a symbol of freedom in this film exposes how the actions of law enforcement can violate people’s civil liberties, and it reminds the viewer to be skeptical of extreme government action.


Works Cited

Clément, Dominique. “The October Crisis of 1970: Human rights abuses under the war measures act.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 42.2 (2008): 160-186.

Loiselle, André. Cinema as History: Michel Brault and Modern Quebec. Toronto International Film Festival, 2007.

Les ordres. Montreal: Michel Brault, 1974. DVD.


Photos by Alexia Moyer