I like food. I enjoy cooking, and I am not too shabby at it, either. Last weekend I made borscht. I also broke out the ice cream maker for the first time and made some donut-flavored ice cream. (My housemate had been craving donuts, and it was her birthday on Monday.) I belong to a CSA. I read some food blogs. I sometimes write about wizards obsessed with meat. I play a dwarven chef in a D&D game.
All that is just to say that I think about food a bit more than is healthy for someone who could stand to lose about 30 pounds.
I think that food can add a lot to gaming. Here are some ways that you can use details about food to improve your game:
1. Food can help define cultures.
One thing that has struck me is how much you can say about a culture based upon what they eat. If I tell you that the Romans considered peacock brains and flamingo tongues to be delicacies, that probably conjures up some images of exotic decadence and conspicuous consumption. On the other hand, if I tell you that all you see are fields, and fields of cabbages, you probably assume that the people who eat those cabbages are rather bucolic… and maybe somewhat boring.
Food taboos (or their absence) can also tell you a great deal. You meet up with some nomads and they offer to share a meal with you. You’d probably think very different things of them if they served you something that was vaguely sentient (say, kobold eggs) than if they were strict vegetarians.
Different spices can also convey different things about cultures – or encounters. Often, the use of things like cilantro, cumin, star anise, chile, cardamom, tamarind, ginger, saffron, and lemon grass can impart a sense of the exotic. Other spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and sage, are more familiar and homey. The use of a familiar spice or two in an unusual context/combination could easily create a feel of an alien palate. Imagine, say, elves who eat a savory blackberry paste flavored with basil and nutmeg and wrapped in mustard leaves.
To be continued….