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In case you missed it, I was invited to participate in The Written Word, Zharmae’s weekly radio show. The live show took place yesterday afternoon, and the focus was on food in fantasy book. Both Christy Jones, author of Trinka and the Thousand Talismans, and I discussed food in fantasy literature in depth–everything from GRR Martin’s love of bacon to the way food symbolizes trust in fairy tales. The episode is definitely worth a listen, and you can hear it for free here!
I wanted to make sure my faithful blog readers were not left out of the Radio Z fun, though. On the show I shared this excerpt from Ariah:
I wandered east, endlessly east. After three days of travel, just as my supplies began to run out, I found a river and followed it further east. I survived mostly on edible water grasses and fish. I felt guilty about the fish until I managed to snare and eat a rabbit. I wept when I killed it and skinned it, and wept again when I ate it. It was a struggle to keep the meat down; the wrongness of it was overwhelming. Still, I needed the protein badly. After that first rabbit, I became carnivorous and killed and ate whatever animals I could.
This scene takes place nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. Ariah has faced capture, and has just managed to escape. By this point in the book the reader knows that Ariah was raised in a vegetarian culture–we have seen him turn down meat dishes politely, thoughtlessly, out of habit more than once.
Semadran culture, in which Ariah was raised, lives under the thumb of the Qin. The level of structural oppression the Semadran elves like Ariah live with due to the Qin leaks into every part of their culture–right down to the food they eat. They live in poverty, so richer and more caloric foods (like meat) are much harder for Ariah’s community to come by. Ariah’s people live in restricted neighborhoods with enforced curfews, far from the fresh markets, so food that spoils quickly is not practical, either. A plant-based diet is more practical.
But on an ethical/spiritual/political level (these things are tied together in complex ways for Semadran elves), there is another level of meaning here. Semadran elves are decidedly nonviolent, and this extends to their diet. In a social position where they find themselves mercilessly beaten, imprisoned, executed often by the Qin, one form of resistance may be a refusal to eat another being.
All of this rushes to the surface in this scene where Ariah, forced by circumstance, first eats a fish and later eats a rabbit. He has to do it. He has to eat that rabbit to stay alive. He knows this, but in the doing, he confronts a lifetime of enculturation. And he comes undone.
He comes undone, but his body overrides his shame and guilt. He so badly needs the nutrients and the protein that his hesitance is quickly overcome. This becomes the new normal for him at a pace which disturbs him.