It’s the final battle. The plucky protagonist has overcome every obstacle the Big Bad has thrown her way. She’s mastered sword fighting, magic wielding, and animal husbandry. Nothing can stop her now. Nothing except the fact she hasn’t eaten in three months and she’s actually dead.
As a writer, you need to make sure your characters’ adventures are realistic, and that means they have to eat and drink at least once in their lives. Scientifically speaking, a human body can live without food for about 20 days but can only go 3 days without drinking before keeling over. This means your characters need to eat and drink every once in awhile.
You don’t have to have your characters announce they’re eating because they have to in order to survive. Instead, eating can be a backdrop to a plot point. In the Harry Potter series, half of the big events take place during breakfast/dinner. Announcements happen during feasts, Harry gets his Nimbus 2000 during lunch, and Hermione’s copy of The Quibbler arrives when she’s eating dinner.
J.K. Rowling uses the fact that people gather together to eat as a setting for events. While the act of eating – and the food itself – is irrelevant, having the characters eat allows for the reader to not question why everyone is in the same room when something important happens.
In fact, you can probably name a million scenes where characters interact over food. Thor smashing a coffee cup saying, “Another!” Jennifer Aniston saying, “Baby wanted 12 lemons.” And the iconic “I’ll have what she’s having” takes places in a diner. In those moments, the food is secondary to the characters, but it’s needed to continue the plot.
But food can be a plot point too. Think of the berries in The Hunger Games (2012). The nightlock berries serve as a plot point in the tail end of the 74th Annual Games. Not only does the tribute Foxface die because she was hungry and thought the berries were safe, but the berries were key in how both Katniss and Peeta were able to survive.
Mean Girls (2004) also uses food as a plot point. Part of Janis’ plan to ruin Regina’s confidence is making her gain weight. Cady gives the blonde terror a kalteen bar in order to sabotage her diet. Additionally, when it’s time for Damien to hand out the Candy Cane Grams, he makes sure Gretchen doesn’t get any in an effort to divide the plastics.
It might not seem like food can play a big role in storytelling, but without it we wouldn’t have complete stories. So make sure you feed your characters, even if it’s only in passing. People need to eat.