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shaenon @ 2008-08-14T18:27:00

Food is what you put in children's books instead of sex.

It's hardly a new observation, but I was reminded of it again while rereading The Twenty-One Balloons, a book I loved as a kid. It's about a utopian island community built on the principle of "restaurant government." Everyone on the island owns a restaurant, and the main social activity is going around to all the restaurant/homes for meals. (The book was written in 1947, and the narrator goes on about how weird and foreign and icky the food at the Chinese restaurant is. How did the Greatest Generation survive without delicious Chinese food? I ask you.) Large chunks of the book are devoted to describing the elaborate dining system and the food everyone eats, right up to the climax where the island blows up and they're forced to survive for weeks on sauerbraten and hot chocolate. Again, I loved this book.

Other great moments in children's food porn:

Alice in Wonderland. "Eat Me" and "Drink Me." The mushroom. The tea party. The tarts. It's all about mathematics, sexual repression, and food, but mostly food.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Edmund sells his soul for Turkish Delight, inspiring countless children of later generations to fantasize about the wonders of this actually kind of nasty confection.

Charlotte's Web. Loving descriptions of Wilbur's slop and everything contained therein. The buttermilk bath. Another seduction scene: Templeton agrees to save Charlotte's eggs in return for first crack at Wilbur's trough for life. Oh, Wilbur! Such sacrifice! Also, the cold sarsaparilla at the end of Stuart Little always sounded good to me, as did the watercress sandwiches that Louis orders from room service in The Trumpet of the Swan.

The Oz books. Totally obsessed with the physical process of eating. Characters are constantly threatening to devour each other. The biological and non-biological characters argue about whether it's better not to need to eat. The fixation finds its Platonic expression in the Hungry Tiger, who wants to eat everything and everyone and is in constant agony because decency prevents him from eating fat babies. All he wants is a fat baby, dammit! Just one fat baby! And then a million more.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Duh. Actually, all of Roald Dahl's children's books have amazing food scenes. I remember being hypnotized by his mouth-watering description of a cold meat pie, something I'm sure I would have turned up my nose at had I been presented with one in real life, in Danny, the Champion of the World. As Alison Bechdel noted, it gets downright pornographic in James and the Giant Peach.

The Secret Garden. Roasted potatoes for the win. Because everything tastes better if eaten with a sylvan nature boy of the wild moors.

The Neverending Story. No, Bastian! You're planning to live in the school attic indefinitely! Don't eat your whole damn sandwich and apple in one go! No, not even if Atreyu is eating in the book! Have some self-control, you fat basNO BASTIAN NOOOO

Harriet the Spy. I was always impressed that Harriet got cake and milk every single day after school. Truly she is my model of perfect womanhood.

Lizard Music. The hero's progression from borderline pod person to rebel who walks with crazy homeless guys and talking lizards is symbolized by his desire to stop eating TV dinners and cook for himself. You had better believe that Daniel Pinkwater knows how to eat.

The Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling knows how the game is played. From the first lunch of candy and Cauldron Cakes on the train to the banquets with their tureens of buttery peas to that thrilling first butterbeer, Hogwarts is a horn of plenty, not to mention a contrast to the Dursley household, where Harry never gets enough to eat. You can name at least five brand-name wizard delicacies of the top of your head, can't you?

I can't even get into books for younger readers because there's too many out-and-out food orgies to list. Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen is probably the most notable for its raw fusion of prepubescent hunger, sexuality, and id. You can always turn away, go for the folksy charm of a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but Sendak's still there, staring straight into the Easy-Bake belly of the beast.