When we try to describe a situation we might have encountered to someone else, we often simply talk about what we saw, or maybe what was said. But for an author, all the senses need to be engaged, to really capture the moment. Much as I love photography, I’m always frustrated that only the visual is captured. Who was on the street? What did it sound like? What did the air smell of, or taste like?
The sense of taste, like any other sense can evoke memory. But much as we might enjoy certain foods over another, at a basic level we also associate it with being hungry, or once we’ve eaten, being full.These are things most people reading this blog will take for granted. We get hungry we eat, we ‘re full. A few hours later the ritual is repeated. Sometimes we eat alone. Sometime times with others. Each time has a different connotation, a different emphasis, and through these experiences we build memory and associations.
Radio Echo is set during World War II and food rationing was a major part of life for all the countries involved. Ration books were issued in the UK at the beginning of 1940 and continued until 1953. It was not limited to food but included petrol, clothing, bicycles and most hard goods. The US brought in similar rationing in 1943.
Much of the effort to encourage people to participate fully and get behind the idea in the UK came from the Ministry of Food.
Here is a short flash film:
Many people had ‘Dig for Victory Gardens’ and grew their own food. And of course the lack of protein was made up for in creative ways – two of which were using whale meat and eating horses!
In the novel, as in the reality of wartime, the black market is used for those who had both the money and the contacts.
Italy, where Radio Echo is set, is known for its fabulous food and wonderfully simple, but flavorful ingredients. But during the war, Italy was badly hit by poverty and food shortages, especially in cities like Bologna that had been heavily bombed.
Communal kitchens were set up, and neighbors for the most part helped each other. But the Black market was thriving there as well as in the UK and US. There was no waiting at the Bologna Market Hall for hours for a loaf of bread for the Benedetti family who is central to the novel.
But whether it was bought from the Black Market or doled out in the small rationed portions, food was savored, appreciated in a way that is foreign to many of us today. An onion or an orange is not a rare commodity. We take them for granted. And by doing so, we miss the uniqueness of their taste. Their specialness.
The sense of taste evoking memory is different for different people. Perhaps the first time you ate a particular food or something you might have been forced to eat as a child sticks in your mind and is remembered by the same taste. Or avoided.
At my junior school, after the boiled meat and cabbage variation on lunch, we often had pink blancmange for dessert – basically jelly (Jell-O) with milk. God knows what the pink was from – some gross strawberry flavoring. It’s the kind of thick pudding that lodges in your throat, making you feel sick with every spoonful. I have a clear humiliating memory of being made to stay in the canteen for the second sitting with the ‘big kids’ until I finished my pink blancmange. Maybe that’s why I’ve never liked the color pink.
Let me know what your taste buds long for or where they take you. Your comments are always the most interesting part of writing this blog.
To end on the note of one of the the most popular tastes – if you’re looking for a great chocolate shop somewhere near you, check out this blog http://diversionswithdoreen.com/.
Doreen is writing a Chocolate Travel book.