Search for food, reproduction, sleep; the primal needs for every uni- and multicellular organism is to consume in order to survive and by doing so ensuring the continued existence of its own species. As a consequence, eating and drinking is not only an individual but also a common necessity; it is the basis of a civilization (Keeling 5). But food is more than just nutrition; it can be pleasure or temptation, and the way how or what is consumed is always as well a “mark [for] humankind’s morality” (qtd. in ibid.: 6). Therefore, it is not surprising that the universal experience of food occupies an important place within every culture (Katz 197-8). It was Eve’s lusty bite into an apple that caused, according to Christian belief, the Fall and brought evil into the world of men. Other beliefs demanded religious offerings – be it food, valuables, or even human sacrifices – to appease the gods.
An equivalent myth to the Land of Plenty, the Land of Milk and Honey, can be tracked down in paintings, poems and literary works originated in almost all parts of the planet. From Homer’s great feasts in The Iliad to Harry Potter’s lonely suppers in a cupboard under the stairs; literature of any genre originated in any period and any cultural tradition can be analysed concerning the aspect of food (Keeling 4). In his essay “Food and Power”, Nicholson points out, that food in literature always has a symbolic function as “characters […] do not eat to live, since they aren’t alive” (38). Analysing the way of consuming food and the kind of food consumed, therefore, allows scholars to draw inferences about manners and morals as well as social relationships of a specific period (Daniel 1). Such an analysis is especially relevant when it comes to children’s literature; since this genre is mainly dominated by adults writing for children, the representation of what is considered to be good and bad food or how much food is seen as adequate is an important source for the prevalent concepts of childhood and the child’s integration into community (ibid. 2).
In fairy-tales, as well as in their medieval oral origins, the lack of food is especially prominent (ibid. 62). In the Brothers Grimm version of Hansel and Gretel, famine is the reason for the woodcutter to abandon his children, but after the witch’s death the siblings find precious jewellery providing enough wealth not to suffer starvation again . Fairy-tales often promised plenty of food to satisfy hunger (ibid. 62-3); a mere fantasy which was supposed to satiate the reader’s appetite in literature since it often could not be satisfied in their everyday life.
But besides the satisfying effect of fictional food, Hansel and Gretel already hints at a more negative approach to food. The siblings are tempted by the witch’s house consisting of bread and sweets. Especially evangelical discourses demanded dieting to resist the temptation of sins like gluttony or sloth (Labbe 94). Also the required dining etiquette of the...