Eating With Your Eyes: When Reading Gives You The Munchies

Reading is a marvelous and beautiful way to engage your empathy muscles. We know this. We all read; we have all learned to experience life, at least for a short time, from the vantage point of another person. It’s the best part of reading, probably. But sometimes that vantage point is at a character’s kitchen table, or favorite restaurant, or in the armchair of their dry, sandy hobbit hole as a fire crackles and they are just about to take a bite of warm crusty bread and a lump of cheese and a bit of mutton or whatever other hobbitty delights are in the cupboard. Characters eat. It’s part of life—even fictional life.

My autobiography, forthcoming.

As I’ve said before, I recently discovered that my Hogwarts house is Hufflepuff, which pretty boils my entire character down to my essential trait: a love of food. I don’t deny it. I embrace it. I own it. I celebrate it. My passion for stuffing my face sometimes crosses paths with my passion for stuffing my eyes with words, and a kind of strange thing happens when it does. Reading about food gives me the munchies. Big time.

Okay, I guess it’s not all that strange to suddenly get a craving for whatever it is an author describes in meticulous, beautiful, tantalizing detail. I’m sure I’m not alone here. Right? RIGHT? Of course not. (RIGHT???)

J.K. Rowling is a third degree black belt in this art, and maybe she’s looking out for her Hufflepuff readers when she lingers over exactly what is spread across the table at meal time in the Great Hall. To be honest, I wasn’t super into butterscotch for most of my life. It kind of reminded me of these strange, yellow cellophane-wrapped candies my Grandma used to keep around her house. But once our beloved wizards and witches started sipping on butterbeer, I couldn’t get enough of it. Butterscotch pudding? Yes, please. Butterscotch sundaes from Dairy Queen? Don’t mind if I do! Homemade butterbeer? Duh.

I can’t say I exactly craved Bertie Bott’s earwax flavored jelly beans, but Rowling definitely tried her best. Also, I don’t know what treacle is, but I want it.

The Hobbit was particularly hard to get through without frequent trips to my kitchen. It’s not a huge distance between a hobbit and a Hufflepuff (I’m sure some Hufflepuffs shave their feet), so I fell right into the trap of making myself stacks of buttered toast to crunch on while Bilbo and company filled their bellies with whatever was available on their adventure.

Not pictured: liverwurst. (Maybe? I still don’t know.)

In second grade, our teacher read aloud to us The Cricket In Times Square, and literally the only thing I remember about the whole book is that the titular insect and his companions eat a tiny feast that included liverwurst and soda out of, like, a thimble or something. I had no idea then and I have little idea now of what liverwurst is or if I’d eat it, but I went home that day from school and had an afternoon snack of lunch meat cut into tiny, cricket sized pieces. With a little imagination it was liverwurst. Why did I channel my imagination into pretending to eat liverwurst? I pay a therapist big bucks to help me find that answer. (See also: I have no idea whatsoever—I was a weird little dude.) (And I was hungry.)

Okay. We’re friends, so I’m going to confess something kind of gross. Grosser than liverwurst maybe. (See also: this might not be true since the only liverwurst I ever ate was actually honey ham.) I wish I could say that my empathy appetite only kicked in when characters are eating balanced meals of lean, responsibly-raised protein and plenty of vegetables. I wish that was true. But here’s the deal: when I read Lisey’s Story, Stephen King accomplished what I had assumed was impossible by making me crave Hamburger Helper.

Hamburger. Helper.

If you love the goopy, soupy, meat and cheesey mess, I don’t hold it against you. Not at all. It’s just not my favorite. But it became irresistible to me for several days, as I even washed down volcanically hot spoonfuls of the stuff with slugs of Pepsi to avoid scalding my mouth. Just like in the story—just like Lisey, with whom my readerly appetite so strongly identified, apparently.

So. Now you know all my secrets. Including why I am terrified to read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory .

I wish that was a joke. I wish.

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