Screw The Story's Plot: What Did They Have For Lunch?Yeah, stories are fine and all, but for food-lovers, there's nothing better than a good meal description. In the latest New Yorker, chef Alice Waters reminisces about her favorite, a feast from Marcel Rouff's The Passionate Epicure — "this sumptuous French meal with everything, turtle soup, the whole thing." That sounds good, but it's no match for the awesome meals in Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, or the daube in To the Lighthouse, or the avocado in The Bell Jar or the syrup in To Kill A Mockingbird or the weird picnics in The Sea, The Sea or the tomato sandwiches in Harriet the Spy or or or!Some people are visual. Some are mathematical. Others of us, like MFK Fisher, are gastronomical. And when you are, you sort of think of everything through the lens of food. As such, food scenes in books get imprinted on your mind, and books without food - however amazing they might be - are always lacking something. The novelist Laurie Colwin loved cookbooks because they're just food, but for some of us, being greedy, we want food and plot, food as vehicle, as plot device, as character illuminator, as window to the soul and tummy. And it can't just be cold, clinical descriptions of food, either, like in Madame Bovary. there has to be palpable relish to the descriptions. Even if, as in The Magic Mountain, you know it's standing in for the complacent excess of modern Europe, the food must be appetizing. In short, the best food descriptions are written by authors who clearly love to eat, even if they conscientiously temper this with philosophy. A bad book cannot be saved by an amazing meal, obviously, but it's also true that those who can write fictional food well — be it Elizabeth Bishop or Maya Angelou — can generally also convey emotion and style in a satisfactory fashion. And as a food prose glutton, we are always looking for more and better meals to read and remember, be it Barbara Pym's salmon mousses or the Sunday Night Lunches of the Betsy-Tacy series. If this sounds like a call for food scenes, it is: in books, as in life, enough is never enough, and a good meal is worth a thousand words. The Exchange: Alice Waters [New Yorker] [Image via fortsanders.net]