Why I Wrote It: Food, Culture, and Worldbuilding

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

The third of my “Worldbooks,” my 50 question coaching guides for worldbuilding, was on food. So why did I do this? Oh, I had reasons because I cook, and cooking is a gateway to the rest of the human experience.

Food is far more than food.

Food fuels humanity. It’s vitally important to us, obviously, but because it is so important, we miss how important it is to us. We need food to be fueled, to be healthy, and if you’re aware of how people have battled over diets and how famines affected history, you realize how much food matters. Food must be in your worldbuilding.

Food is about experience. We have sensations we associate with food, we have meanings we attribute to it, we have food that has meaning to us. Food is personal. It is part of your characters and culture.

Food is about history. Humans have been seeking food and how to get more of it for the extent of our existence on earth. We have fought wars to survive, tilled land, found what is edible, and tried new things we thought would kill us. Every meal you have bears the impact of ages. Food is the result of your entire setting’s history.

Food ties into many other things – health, religious symbolism, traditions, and more. Every holiday meal, every religious law about food you follow, is just a sign of how deep food connects to our lives. Food is one of the places in culture where everything very visibly comes together – which is so obvious we miss.

It shocked me there wasn’t more worldbuilding books on food because of these items, but I think it’s because food is an intimate part of our lives, and thus we miss it. We’re too close to it, and thus we miss it.

So I wrote one. I won’t lie, I was looking forward to it because of all those above issues, and because I thought it’d get people to think.

If anything, I could have probably gotten a much larger book out of it. But on reflection, had I made a larger book, it would only appeal to serious foodie writers. Better it be left some coaching questions to let people find their own paths.

A lesson here is that just because something is common doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it – the commonality is why a deeper analysis is warranted. You may have a book in mind that seems as if it’s “just common sense,” then it probably needs to be written, if only as a reminder.

Steven Savage