Brian Jacques, in his Redwall series, used detailed descriptions of foods and feasts to engage the senses of blind audiences members.
Food and drink can be a great way to add detail to a world. Everything from where the components of a dish are grown/hunted, to how it is prepared, to what spices are typically used to enhance flavor can all tell a story. Often in science fiction or fantasy worlds completely novel types of foods are created. In game-oriented worlds, crafting recipes can be major objectives and foods may have different in-game effects when eaten or sold. For narrative worlds, critical dialog occurring over the course of a meal or feast is a common occurrence. Food can be found in all world types to greater or lesser degrees, and how it might factor into any fictional world you create is well worth pondering.
Consider what foods are predominantly eaten in your world or within a specific region within your world. These are plants or animals that provide the bulk of the diet of the population.
Common Food Staples
- SWEET POTATOES
Recipes are often used in game worlds that contain a crafting element. These can provide a sense of progression, as well as a reward depending on their rarity. For other types of worlds, for instance narrative driven worlds, recipes can provide plot points as obtaining them, or their ingredients, can drive a story forward. Foods recipes may also be used to highlight regional differences in a world, and make different areas of a fictional world
How are the components or ingredients of food stored? Grain silos, cheese caves, wine cellars, and more are all commonly used. If your world contains scavenging animals, how is food protected from them as well as protected from spoilage? Particularly important to large population centers, worlds with extended winters, or defensive sites under siege, the means by which food can be an important element to include in a world.
Salting or smoking meat can inhibit microbial growth, allowing it to last much longer. Drying fruits and vegetables can also preserve them. Finding proper storage mediums (such as jams) or proper storage containers (jars, cans, Tupperware) is another way of making foods last. Freezing is also a potential solution.
If transportation in your world takes a long time, consider what foods are typically packed for travel. In general, these will be lightweight, portable, and not easily spoiled unless transportation in your world also contains a means to keep food fresh (or contains the ability to make its’ own food).
Preparation, Presentation & Dining
How are foods prepared in your world? What does kitchenware look like? What utensils are used? The way in which food is processed, cooked, and eaten can be an opportunity to insert unique elements into a fictional world. You can use this space to expand upon world etiquette or culture.
If your fictional beings or aliens lack human-like appendages, their utensils and kitchenware may of a very different kind.
Markets, Restaurants and Food Stalls
Food can be made on an individual or family basis, or may be bought and sold at markets or restaurants. Consider how a person in your world obtains their food. Do people generally cook for themselves, do they have others cook for them, or it is some mixture? Depending on the style of governance, food may be parceled out and provided by the authority.
Spices can be used to enhance flavor or help preserve foods. While some cultures appreciate hot foods, others may avoid it. Spices have also played a major role in the exploration of new regions as well as the creation of trade routes.
Foods for Special Occasions or Special Places
Celebrations, rituals, festivals, religious ceremonies, or certain days of the year may be cause for a specific type of food or meal (or its abstinence). Some foods may be rare and saved for special occasions, such as a fine vintage or a prized chicken.
Large enough population centers require large food sources. Consider what farms, fisheries, hunting grounds, or other sources look like in your world. The source of food may be located close to those that need it or may be far away. In the latter case, a means of transportation is necessary, and interruption can cause serious issues.
Alcoholic drinks pose a broadly useful worldbuilding element. They can be used to highlight cultural aspects of a fictional world, their effects can be used for narrative purposes or to demonstrate similarities/differences between fictional species or races, and where these beverages are sold (bars, taverns, nightclubs) tend to be central locations for narrative developments.
Foods in Game-Oriented Worlds
Foods may confer bonuses, heal health, be necessary for survival, be found items, or may need to be grown, harvested, and cooked by player characters. It may be eaten, or it may be sold. If you are including food in your game-oriented world, consider to what degree, and what role it serves. If your game includes crafting elements, consider the ingredients needed for each food element, and whether recipes will be present.