In his 1995 book, The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping and the Novel, Alain de Botton suggested a connection between Madame Bovary’s libido and excessive shopping and consumption habits: The backlash against Flaubert at the time, he suggested, was not just against Emma’s extramarital affair, but also against a world where women would consume “without need”. Incidentally, it would take the same Emma to eat some pineapple at an upper-class gathering to truly realize how unsatisfied she is with her husband.
Literature, particularly novel, is marked by those moments of precise summary, or the perfect foreshadower in the form of a meal. In Nabokov’s Lolita, it becomes the gin and pineapple juice that Humbert drinks, which “doubles” his energy and “dances” in him — the intoxication of a middle-aged man in the face of the tween energy of Dolores. Ulysses‘ Leopold Bloom happens to have a thing for giblets, especially kidneys which “gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”. Combined with his point of view on voyeurism and knack for lingerie, would he be into BDSM urophagia had he lived in the 21st century , you wonder (He probably would.)
Inspired by the idea of capturing the essence of each novel through the dishes, designer Dinah Fried set out to recreate notable meals from literature just as she imagined them to be, complete with the perfect tableware and setting. First started as a master’s project (series of five photos) at RISD, Fictitious Dishes immediately resonated among food enthusiasts, photographers, and Fried’s fellow designers alike — and turned into a book project of fifty Fictitious Dishes.
With the help of quotation and trivia next to each dish that would assist the reader in putting the meal into context, Fried hits the nail on the head. Alongside familiar meals from On the Road (apple pie and ice cream), The Catcher in the Rye (cheese sandwich), Middlesex (Greek salad and spanakopita), The Metamorphosis (scrapes of rotten food) — the book also features some unorthodox meals such as a handful of soil in One Hundred Years of Solitude (the character has a habit of eating dirt and limestone), and dolophine in Valley of the Dolls.
As Fictitious Dishes comes out via HarperCollins today, we talked to Dinah about the creation process, sharing your food on Instagram and whether anyone will still be reading novels in a hundred years.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
How did you go about finding the books when you were first starting out with this project?
Initially it was based on ones that I remembered. Sometimes I remembered them because they were actually iconic, like Gulliver and Oliver Twist. Some I just remembered from reading them, and they just stayed with me. After I started the project, I just developed a fixation on the meals in the novels, and somewhere, I started adding more books. Other people who knew about the photos also started giving them to me. I wanted it to be a mix of older books and new books – so if I wanted something of a specific genre I’d have to think about it more, but otherwise it was based on memory.
Did you eat any of the dishes that you were photographing?
I did not eat any of the ones that were actually in the photos. The food turns into something very different in the process – you use glue for milk and all those tricks,it becomes something else that is pretty unappetizing after you’ve spent four hours photographing it. For some of them I needed extras – like for the Middlesex photo, I needed a whole pan of spanakopita so we definitely had that for dinner.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1963)
The books you covered in Fictitious Dishes span a time of 200 years – did you notice anything different about the meals as the times changed? Any particular trends per era?
To me it was more about how I envisioned the props and how the dishes were looking and less about the actual food. There are things that come up consistently; there is the tea or coffee that is there throughout the ages, from the old to coming out right now. The bread and cheese – certain foods spanned a time period in a really nice way. Things like that which are reassuring about comfort food, that it existed throughout time.
Within the past 10 years, food got really big and created its own space within the pop culture. What do you think we should be crediting that to?
I think all of these fronts in social media give everyone a moment to speak from their own point of view, which was impossible to do before. Instagram allows non-professionals to adhere to photographing food as an art form – there is place in the media for it that there probably wasn’t before. It’s not traditional food photography, and it’s not food styling that would be in a cookbook, it’s homegrown. There is the literal point of the view, the bird’s-eye view – “this is my meal, and I’m looking down on it”, I think it speaks to that as well.
With the increased need to be plugged in all the time, it feels like it’s getting harder to read novels – because we no longer have that uninterrupted time. Do you think, say a hundred years from now, people will still be reading novels?
A good novel is my favorite thing to read, really. I’m not a media expert but I do think there is going to be some sort of backlash against dependency on our devices. And my hope is, once we reach our full saturation point, which I think is nearing, we’ll start to carve out time away from our devices, which will allow us to read without interruption.
Follow Busra on Twitter: @busra_erkara