For fans of The Hunger Games trilogy (hand in the air), it is obvious that food plays a major role within the action-packed narrative. And without revealing any spoilers, we’ll just say that the food reference—consumption, preparation, hoarding, a recurring lamb stew with dried plums—are actually pretty crafty at times. You can think of a cross between Ruth Reichl and Michael Crichton.
“I went through all the books with a highlighter and any mention of food I found, even if it was just an apple hanging from a tree, I highlighted,” says Emily Ansara Baines, author of the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. As the title reads, the 250-pager was an unsanctioned affair, but nonetheless captures the spirit with 150 recipes with names like Rue’s Roasted Parsnips and Gale’s Bone-Pickin’ Big Game Soup. Baines, who studied creative writing under T.C. Boyle at the University of Southern California, spoke with us about recipes and cooking with dog. Or, the proper substitution for dog, that is.
For those who haven’t read the book, what importance does the author Suzanne Collins place on food?
Oh man, this is such a loaded question. Food is so much more than just something to eat. Instead, it represents a variety of conflicts that the characters, regardless of background, must struggle against. Food shows the ever-widening gap between the haves (those in the Capitol) and the have-nots (almost everyone else). In other words, the very importance of food is in the title itself—The Hunger Games. Food, and the lack thereof, is what the series is all about.
Which recipes were a must for you to include?
Well, [the main character] Katniss’ favorite stew of course, and all the breads that Peeta’s bakery makes. Plus, all the decadent desserts—I am a sucker for sugar!
Are “the kids”—the 12-17 target demo for the series—going to like your lamb stew?
Yes! It’s quite filling and succulent. When I was a kid we ate lamb chops (with apple sauce) and lamb stew is a lot juicier than pork chops! Plus, I mean, if kids are fans of The Hunger Games they can really feel like a part of the book series when they eat the food, and can consider just what Katniss was going through when she imbibed.
How did you test these recipes?
It took months to finish the book. I tested the recipes on myself, my co-workers, my boyfriend and my friends. I was incredibly lucky because while I wrote the recipes I was working as an in-house chef at a post-production sound facility, where I was basically required to cook something new every day. And hey, even some celebrities got in on it! A very respected rapper enjoyed my banana bread.
Is there room for veganism in Panem?
HA. Yes. But, only if you are poor and willing to live in the woods on nuts and berries. Otherwise, yeah, most everything involves meat or milk.
If you could compare the book’s main chef character Greasy Sae to a current celebrity chef, who would it be?
Martha Stewart starved and on crack. So, probably, pretty close to how she is right now… and I say that with love; I love Martha Stewart. Maybe Alton Brown as well? Alton Brown is so smart and resourceful. Greasy Sae definitely possesses some of that ingenuity.
What is the best substitute for wild dog, which the characters tend to enjoy?
Chicken. Chicken is the best substitute for anything.
Do you have a favorite food reference in the book? *Minor spoiler alert
I love the story of how Peeta and Katniss met—the whole “boy with the bread” thing. It’s so sweet and says so much about the characters, their relationship, everything…
Which food item do you wish was featured in the book?
Banana bread, just because then people would stop yelling at me that there’s no mention of banana bread in the books. I put an amazing recipe in the cookbook because I just really like banana bread and hey, Peeta bakes bread, but it’s amazing what kind of uproar I heard about that. It makes me scared for the unofficial Downton Abbey cookbook I am writing—I am doing all this research in an attempt to be historically accurate but I know I will STILL mess something up.
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO SEE THE MOVIE?
SO EXCITED. I love Jennifer Lawrence. She is such a talented actress and embodies the spirit of Katniss perfectly. I love that a strong female heroine has captured the hearts of today’s youth (and adults!). It’s nice to have a woman role model around, one who doesn’t give up everything for a man. That’s rare nowadays.
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