On the Table

If we are what we eat, what does the food we read about say about us? In his new book, Scott Pollard ’81 goes on a culinary journey through children’s books.

If we truly are what we eat, what does the food we read about say about us? That’s a question explored in the book Scott Pollard ’81 and his wife, Kara Keeling, just published.

In Table Lands, the English professors explore food in children’s stories: from Ratatouille to the pies in Beatrix Potter’s tales to the honey favored by one Winnie the Pooh. In Wonderland, Alice has her elixirs, potions to make her big or small. In Where the Wild Things Are, a dinner that is still hot could well be the love of a little boy’s mother. And then, of course, there are children’s books in which monsters want to eat up the young heroes themselves.

But why? What do all of these tales of food say about us? Pollard and Keeling, both English professors at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, explore the ways food in children’s stories speaks about culture, economic status, and a child’s place in the world. The book takes this exploration a step further than the idea that we are what we eat.

“Children’s literature, after all, is full of young people trying to figure out who they are,” the pair writes. So we also are, in a way, the food we grow up reading about. The food eaten by the animals in Beatrix Potter’s stories, for example, is not just temptingly yummy, but speaks of social economic status and the desperation of poverty. There is, of course, culture around food, too—how one cooks and how one eats; is bread broken with family or in extended community?

cartoon bear and rabbit
Within the crossover of food literature and children’s literature creates a unique window into processes of cultural and identity. Listen to Pollard and Keeling discuss more in the podcast, New Books in Food. / Image courtesy Shutterstock.

One famous bear, for example, finds food an adventure. Winnie the Pooh tells Piglet that the first thing he thinks every morning is “What’s for breakfast?” Piglet, on the other hand, wonders what will be exciting in the day before them. “It’s the same thing,” Pooh replies.

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