Readers often refer to turning points in literature—those plot developments that alter a character’s situation or fortune. But how does food play a role or set the stage for these moments?
When we peruse some of the most famous works of literature, a number of “turning point meals” quickly come to mind. Think of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837) when the young orphan dares to ask the master of the workhouse for more gruel. Or consider Marcel Proust’s sudden rush memories when tasting a madeleine in In Search of Lost Time (1909-1922).
Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist
Canadian Literary Fare has explored a number of “turning point meals” in a past series of postsby highlighting key scenes that mark a change in the plot and a character’s transformation.
Now we’d like to turn this question over to you…
What is the most famous turning point meal in Canadian literature?
About this time of year, Mandarin oranges become available in Canadian grocery stores. Fall ends. Winter takes hold. And boxes of these cheery imports beckon to shoppers who long to brighten cold, grey days.
Historical Mandarin Oranges – Canadian Beginnings
Mandarin oranges were first introduced to Canada in the late 1800s by way of Japanese immigrants. A CBC radio interview with a representative from the Oppenheimer Group (a produce and provisions company based in British Columbia since 1858) reveals that the fruit was first imported in 1891 to provide Japanese workers with a taste of their original home. The B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom website suggests that gift-baskets of the fruit were initially sent to Japanese immigrants by family members, as a way to celebrate the New Year (“Mandarin Oranges”).
They have the potential to change characters’ circumstances and to shift their perspectives. Sometimes, these meals even move beyond the confines of a specific text and work to reshape the larger literary landscape and the country’s cultural fabric.
Jim Wong-Chu’s book of poetry Chinatown Ghosts, which was first published in 1986, is teeming with food narratives and meals that mark a significant turning point in Canadian literature. These poems and Wong-Chu’s other literary work—as a founding member of the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop and a co-creator of the first Asian Canadian literary anthology in 1979 (Inalienable Rice: A Chinese and Japanese Canadian Anthology)—helped to foster an Asian-Canadian writing tradition (Kamboureli 315; Chao ix). Continue reading →
As Shelley pointed out in her introduction to our latest series over on The CanLitFare Blog, “Turning Point Meals” can alert us to a change in character – or rather, to a character’s changing relationship to the world in which s/he lives.
“Wild Turkeys” from Beth Brant’s short story collection, Food and Spirits gives us Violet, and apple pie.
On her way home from a visit with her grandmother – the first in a long while – Violet makes a pit stop in purported Turkey capital of Michigan, Fairview, at Rita’s Diner. She has two hours left of driving and she could use a coffee. She’s been here before. She used to live nearby . . . with an abusive husband . . . until she left. Continue reading →