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

Vegan Nachos/Burrito Bowl

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

Time for another recipe from Steve to help you eat healthy, fast, efficiently – so you can get back to your creative works! This is a Nacho or Burrito bowl recipe depending on what you want – one mix served in two forms!

Makes 2 servings.

First, the basic mix!

  • 1 14.5 oz cans black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed.
  • 1 14.5 oz can tomatoes, drained (or about 2-3 good-sized diced tomatoes).
  • Optional: About 1/4 cup pickled jalapeno slices.
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp crushed garlic (or about 1 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

Take all of these ingredients, mix them, and microwave them until hot, stirring it.  You can also dry-saute it without oil for a better taste.

Now how to serve them?  You can do the following:

NACHOS: Just drop the mix on a pile of nachos and serve!   Serve with a salad for a complete meal!

BURRITO BOWL: Make two bowls, and in each place 1 cup or so cooked rice,  mixed with 1 to 1/2 cups shredded spinach or cabbage.  Ladle the mix over the rice/spinach mixture and serve.  It’s a complete meal!

This meal is a great, fast, tasty one I’ve grown very fond of.  I originally invented the burrito bowl, and the nachos came as a later experiment – but now they’re popular in my household.

Oh, and keep in mind you can freeze the mixture for later . . .

Steven Savage

Eating Cheap And Healthy At Cons

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

After reading fabrickind’s posts on eating healthy at a con, I figured I’d take a break from my usual posts on writing, psychology, and so on to talk food. Well, you know eating at a convention in a cheap and healthy way.

This is based on a number of years of doing this and my own experiments. I’ve put this into practice various ways, so some ideas are still experimental. Still, this should help you out.

I’m not focusing a lot on premade meals, which may be good if you can freeze them and take them with you. I’ll focus more on doing stuff at the convention and using easy food to get.

One warning: BE CAREFUL HOW YOU KEEP FOOD. If something has to be refrigerated, refrigerate it. If something sits out for awhile, don’t eat it. If your cooler fails, anything that has to be kept cool is suspect. Don’t make yourself sick.

By the way, also remember this is a con. You’re probably not gonna eat perfectly nutritiously, or as regular as you’d like, and you might have a fancy meal out. That’s fine.


The basics of eating healthy are actually pretty easy: the more diverse types of food you eat and the less processed it is, the better. So really that’s your goal.

I’d also add that healthy eating usually has enough fiber in it so you avoid unpleasant consequences post con.

I use the classic power plate – equal parts whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes. Note of all of those, only one (vegetables) is hard to store outside of a can or a cooler. Now I eat little animal products, but there are options below.


First, scope the location of the convention. Here’s what you want to look for:

  • DELI AND LOCAL MARKETS: You can get a lot of premade, healthy, and reasonably priced stuff here. Plus fresher ingredients.
  • CONVENIENCE STORES: Some carry fruit, nuts, and other reasonably healthy foods. You might be surprised (but do read labels)
  • GROCERY STORIES: If you can get near one and stock up, great.
  • BULK FOOD STORES: I had great success for years at a con using one of these for oatmeal, dried fruit, etc.

Look for ways to get ingredients and fast healthy cheap food. Obviously, avoid fast food.


Your room and what you bring with you affects how you’ll eat.

A COOLER: If you can bring a cooler, awesome. You can store stuff in it, like vegetables or premade meals if you keep it cool. Sure you have to change the ice, but things should keep pretty well.

A MICROWAVE: Awesome. A microwave is going to let you prepare all sorts of stuff, like steamed vegetables (put them in a bowl with a bit of water, heat a few minutes) or packaged rice. Some hotels also have public microwaves you can use.

A REFRIGERATOR: Score! You can keep anything in there. In fact you can premake stuff, freeze it, then microwave it.

A COFFEE MAKER: Even if this is the only tool you have, it lets you make oatmeal or soup (more later).


So let’s talk food and nutrition here. I’ll talk my faves and where they fit in.


  • BROWN RICE: I love those little heat-up-in-a-microwave single cups of rice.
  • WHOLE WHEAT BREAD: I get locally made stuff that’s basically sugar free and made of like 4 ingredients.
  • CORN CHIPS: Doesn’t sound healthy, but many local brands actually are pretty good.
  • OAT BRAN: I love this stuff. Basically higher protein part of Oatmeal. You can make it in a micowave or hot water from your coffee maker.
  • OATMEAL: Also I love this stuff.
  • TORTILLAS: ’nuff said. Always useful.


  • PEANUT BUTTER: You’ll want a fridge or cooler for most of the no-additive peanut butter (or keep it in an ice container). Peanut butter is a protein bomb with nice fats. Slap that on some whole wheat bread and boom.
  • CANNED BEANS: Canned beans are awesome, especially garbanzos which are nice and solid. You can open a can, drain it in the sink, rinse in the can, toss some soy sauce on them and you got a protein cource for two or three.
  • TOFU: You’ll need a cooler or fridge to keep it, but rip it open, dump on some spices and eat.

If you eat animal products, think outside of meat. Precooked harboiled eggs and cheese are good if you can keep them properly.


Most fruits keep without refrigeration so you’re good there. Bring a nice amount. Also don’t forget dried fruit as well – but avoid the stuff with added sugar.


Ok this is a tough one. Getting your veggies is hard, but there’s a few ways.

  • CANNED VEGGIES: Don’t discount canned veggies. They may be a bit processed, but good quality ones keep and are decent sources of nutrition. I’m fond of canned spinach which I can drain, microwave, or use in soup. A bit of soy sauce and sesame seeds and you’re good.
  • GREENS: If you have a fridge or a cooler you can keep some greens around like spinach, broccoli, or cabbage. Get the prepackaged, pre-washed, and pre-shredded stuff if possible. Some of this you can eat straight, or steam in a microwave.


Keep some spices with you. Some may need refrigeration or being kept away from moisture, but its worth it.

  • BLACK PEPPER: A forgotten spice, but adds a kick.
  • CURRY POWDER: A good curry (I recommend S&B) spices up soups, beans, and so on.
  • GARLIC POWDER: Adds that garlic flavor to anything, and it lasts.
  • LEMON JUICE: Lemon juice and a dash of pepper and garlic powder is instant salad dressing.
  • SALT: Also good for spicing.
  • SESAME SEEDS: Great if you make bowl meals or salads or want to jazz up some steamed or canned veggies.
  • SOY SAUCE: Works on everything.


Some of the above is kinda obvious for food. Peanut butter sandwiches. Oatmeal and fruit. But how can you go farther with what you have? A few of my favorites . . .

COFFEE MAKER SOUP/CHAZUKE: This is one of my faves. Make an herbal team (I reccomend lemon or ginger) in your coffee maker. Dump it over some beans and shredded greens, and some soy sauce, and let it sit for a bit until the greens soften. Then you have soup.

BOWLS: If you have a microwave (or can make rice in the coffee maker, I think it might be possible with precooked rice, don’t know), you can make a bowl meal. Rice, some canned beans, shredded veggies, and some spices. You’re good.

HUMMUS: No, really. Pour that can of drained beans into a bowl, add spices, mash with a fork, serve with bread or chips. Done.

SALAD: Throw some greens in a bowl, add beans, add soy sauce and lemon juice. Salad.


That should give you a few good, cheap ideas. Using these at one con I bought only ONE meal over the weekend. Some of this advice is used day-to-day when I get lazy at home . . .

Steven Savage